In an era of connected TV, direct-to-consumer streaming, and the bewildering consumption habits of Generation Z, TV measurement faces dramatic change. No available currency today can independently cover the increasingly diverse and fragmented ecosystem of multiplatform video distribution. Attempts to assess the value, depth and reach of a viewing instance against a common denominator will suffer greater inaccuracies from poor integration of new platforms and models.
Due to growing fragmentation, the single currency model has been broken. New measurement upstarts claim to more effectively measure disconnected viewing habits for the majority of audiences watching video across multiple devices and services.
For Nielsen, the historically dominant TV ratings leader, the cracks are coming apart. Ad buyers and sellers want to connect the dots for holistic audience measurement with a depth of insight into demographics that goes beyond the scope of a single measurement panel. While Nielsen invests in integrated measurement capabilities for digital video to retain its dominance, new contenders to the throne knock at its door.
In the good old days of linear TV, brand marketers could run a TV campaign relying on industry stalwarts like Nielsen for a single integrated report on reach and frequency. Today, a plethora of viewing information is available from measurement providers, including YouTube, Facebook, Google, Comscore, Inscape, 605, Roku, and a raft of new upstarts.
In the age of digital, advertisers have developed an appetite for deeper audience segmentation and insights that go far beyond age and gender. These capabilities require more data points than traditional models provide.
This tsunami of data sources, driven by fragmentation in the media space, has had a critical impact on measurement. Five years ago, Nielsen offered unduplicated reach between different elements in a TV campaign to identify desirable audience segments on the local and national level. Nowadays, it’s tough to define and calibrate ad buys, based on whether addressable inventories are being duplicated for audiences that include linear TV in their multiscreen/cross-platform mix, let alone digital.
Further, new video distribution models and even the TV sets a majority of audiences own offer more potential for measurement than previous linear TV hardware. CTV and OTT video are making this worse.
eMarketer estimates that in 2019, nearly 60% of Americans were watching CTV, and over 70% were watching digital video. It’s no surprise that Nielsen’s business is suffering. With increasing fragmentation across distribution, audience viewing habits, ad inventories and capabilities for measurement and targeting — if it can only measure a small fraction of ads outside its mainstay of traditional linear TV, who will?
Comscore, formerly Rentrak, has been attempting to reach Nielsen market share for years with its set-top-box data, but historically had the same blind spots as Nielsen. The Inscape ACR dataset is providing census-level measurement of ad detection (excluding Hulu and Amazon Prime) on Vizio set- top-boxes. Companies like 605 and Comscore are now looking to integrate these datasets into set-top-box data to provide a more comprehensive view — not just linear and time-shifted ads, but also CTV and addressable.
But digital — YouTube and Facebook in particular — often takes flak for not being open with data. They might cite privacy concerns for this now, but it’s no strange coincidence that their initial walled gardens, with limited access to specific data, meant they set the rules by which they are measured. Brands have subsequently had to focus efforts on trying to connect the dots themselves to measure how digital video ads translate into real business outcomes.
Digital doesn’t always have to be a black box; we can trust that Disney knows every single impression running on Disney+. With Discovery’s recent announcement that it is licensing Inscape data directly, we can see the beginning of a trend where programming groups are taking these datasets in-house, where they can match instantly with the clickstream data from their direct-to-consumer services.
With so many parts of the industry rushing to build their measurement solutions, who can rebuild Nielsen? It’s ironic that rather than encouraging Google and Facebook to open up data, the TV industry has started to embrace the same outcomes-based attribution approach. It’s possible that Nielsen — or another player (LiveRamp recently paid $150 million for an early stage business in this space) — will become the new TV currency.
Nielsen is taking steps to adjust, recently working with Amobee to leverage its national TV panel and ACR data to expand the company’s cross-platform measurement to four screens. If buyers can believe these attribution models could tie ad spend to outcomes, we may start to see investment switch from the unmeasured media of Facebook and Google.
Attribution will become the new currency. For Nielsen, only time will tell whether it fully embraces the broader opportunity or retreats to the core age and demo measurement of linear TV advertising.
If I owned Nielsen shares, I know which option I’d prefer.