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13 January 2022

Nielsen absent from its own funeral at TVOT Show

Sensing the inevitability of falling victim to a bloodbath, Nielsen politely declined to participate in the TV big data session at this week’s TV of Tomorrow (TVOT) virtual event. Naturally, Nielsen was still one of the core topics of conversation – as panelists debated the future of people panels in the audience measurement marketplace.

Just to rub salt in Nielsen’s weeping wounds, Comscore’s Chief Research Officer, Michael Vinson, was worshipped by some of his neighboring panelists as the future of this industry, as someone focused on figuring out how to bring accurate measurement products to market in the face of the harsh reality – which is that all data has limitations.

Panels have problems. Set top data has problems. Automatic Content Recognition data has problems. There is no ideal dataset out there today.

Even with the limitations of numerous sources of audience data and the clever mechanisms used to verify these datasets, that doesn’t save Nielsen from being thrown under the bus.

Playing captain hindsight, Howard Shimmel, President at Janus Strategy & Insights, believes that if we took out the hundreds of $millions spent by Nielsen on its PPM (Portable People Meter) business, and instead used that in other parts of industry, everyone would be much further ahead than where they are today. “At this point in time, there is so much more we need to be doing with data, if you are a publisher or agency, but can we afford it anymore?” he mused.

It is true that the availability of data has advanced greatly, with the fact that data is now tied to content distribution allowing the industry to measure things that could never be measured in the past. This is not easy, however, as end user devices are not audience measurement devices (hence the success of PPMs). Yet careful use of data that is transparent, validated and signed off by third-parties can transform non-measurement data into data that is properly representative of real TV audiences.

Returning to the burning question – do panels have a future? – Comscore’s Vinson is of the view that panels add context, giving the example, “If I get two impressions, was that two different people or one person seeing it twice?”

“There is a data-driven approach to doing panels,” he continued. “We can still use panels as a validation case, but when a methodology is not easy to understand then having a panel has a useful purpose for nothing other than the proof is in the pudding.”

Over at ad tech vendor VideoAmp, the opinion is that the industry has reached the stage of counting things which just can’t rely on panels anymore, according to Chief Measurability Officer Josh Chasin.

That said, VideoAmp’s services are not bereft of panel data. The company has developed algorithms based on big data and uses panel data as training sets for these algorithms. Chasin emphasized that clients have articulated a personal preference for seeing panels used as training sets for personification of data, so evidently demand is still there from the wider industry.

Chasin mentioned the advent of commercial minute ratings (otherwise known as C3 commercial ratings) as something created to deal with small panels – by providing an average number of viewers watching during commercial breaks. This is about as accurate as the advertising industry can get to seeing the precise number of viewers of a TV spot, much to the continued dismay of steel-faced Tracey Scheppach, CEO at Matter More Media.

Picking up the Nielsen-bashing baton, Scheppach declared that there are no alternative options without competition. “It took a pandemic to lose accreditation and Nielsen knows this – it’s taking C3 down and transitioning to Nielsen One, moving to a blended approach. But is this the right way? Nielsen admitted this is not enough, so we all agree that change is coming,” she argued.

This segued Scheppach to an important point about equivalizing premium content with sub-par content, in the process losing track of where an actual ad ran. She warned of creating huge problems for society and how the industry monetizes premium content. “When I hear this debate, it feels like we’re missing something – we’re missing someone to tell you if that number is more accurate than that number. Who’s doing that? Someone independent of companies needs to step forward and eliminate waste,” she cautioned.

Waste elimination was a repeat topic during this particular TVOT panel session. Launching into story time, Scheppach recalled giving a presentation to the former CEO of advertising and PR giant Publicis many years ago, talking about wasting less data. The then CEO stopped Scheppach in her tracks and said something along the lines of “you should never, ever tell clients we are wasting anything.” This hits home a poignant message about widespread waste of data across the advertising industry, which few want to talk about.