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13 January 2022

WarnerMedia joins queue for Nielsen alternatives

Just weeks after its parent company gutted its own ad tech department, WanerMedia Ad Sales has selected a shortlist of alternative measurement partners. The media giant is following the competition as it looks to adopt audience-based currencies alongside its use of traditional panel-based measurement.

Comscore, iSpot.TV and VideoAmp have all been recruited – three names that have become synonymous with Nielsen’s crumbling stature in the market. WarnerMedia will conduct ‘test and learn’ trials with its clients to determine how best to combine measurement tools from the three vendors.

WarnerMedia says that it is now in the process of developing improved measurement solutions for its clients that make use of alternative currencies. The hope is that these will be better able to capture the truth of media consumption in an increasingly fragmented landscape and offer advertisers better return on their spend.

This new ‘audience-based’ approach will grant advertisers more diverse and accurate measurement of campaigns, as well as comprehensive campaign evaluation.

This marks the next stage of WarnerMedia’s November announcement that it was set to offer its own audience measurement in November last year, at which point the company was in conversations with around 15 measurement vendors. WarnerMedia said at the time that Q1 of this year would see collaboration with media buying agencies and specific advertisers.

First on the agenda is seeing how these vendors can cooperate to measure reach and frequency of ads against consumer profiles – things like where they are located and likely purchases.

WarnerMedia then plans to expand its testing in Q2 to attention metrics – essentially attributing audience actions, such as website visits or product purchases, to an advertising source. The hope is that this will measure the impact that WarnerMedia’s content library – including the CCN, TNT and HBO networks – can offer brands.

“Replicating the current system is not innovative and doesn’t bring the industry forward,” said Stuart Schwartzapfel, SVP of Media Partnerships at iSpot. He argues that advertising across platforms, and specific audience segments should be verified and measured alongside programming.

The figurehead of the current zeitgeist, VideoAmp, had the best rhetoric. “This is a pivotal moment as the industry makes a once in a lifetime shift away from legacy television currencies to solve decades old problems that have plagued the advertising ecosystem,” said Ross McCray, founder & CEO of VideoAmp.

“VideoAmp is prepared to do whatever it takes to support our customer’s mission,” he continued. That is fighting talk if we have ever heard it.

WarnerMedia is not alone in its pursuit of alternatives to Nielsen – if anything, it’s late to the party. ViacomCBS and Univision have crafted similar deals with VideoAmp and Comscore, while NBCUniversal has been rallying troops against Nielsen for months now.

Just this week, NBCUniversal launched its first party identity platform NBCUnified. This consolidates the network’s cross-platform database of consumer touchpoints, spanning 230 million adults, into a single source that advertisers can use to match their own first-party data.

WarnerMedia has now started riding the wave too, with one spokesperson calling Nielsen’s current offering a “blunt counting mechanism”.

WarnerMedia is clearly honing its monetization technology as it prepares to depart from the innards of AT&T and join its closed merger with Discovery. This comes just weeks after AT&T finally let go of its flailing ad tech arm Xandr, selling the company to Microsoft for an undisclosed sum just before Christmas. With roots in display, Xandr had historically struggled with video advertising, so we imagine WarnerMedia’s ad tech stack was largely independent anyway.

Haunted by the signs that it is losing its center of gravity, Nielsen is desperately trying to slow the tide by bringing out more contemporary measurement tools. Most recently, the company launched its Streaming Signals CTV optimization tool, allowing operators and advertisers to unbundle household viewing and analyze which individual is watching a show. This uses custom machine learning models based on historical viewership data to signal to CTV operators the viewer’s identity, all within 50 milliseconds, allowing OEMs to retarget CTV ads with quick turnaround times.

This is certainly more substantive than the hollow rebrand of its streaming measurement platforms that came in October 2020, but still does little to alleviate the painful reality that the true cross-platform measurement promised by Nielsen One will not launch until Q4 of this year at the earliest.

It is a good week for WarnerMedia Ad Sales overall, as the company’s VP of Advertising Sales, JP Colaco, told this week’s TV of Tomorrow Show event that subscribers for HBO Max’s ad-supported tier are steadily increasing less than a year after launch.

Although he declined to give any numbers, Colaco noted that the AVoD platform has one of the lightest ad pods in the industry, with fewer than four minutes of ads per hour of content viewed. HBO Max’s ad supported tier launched in June 2020 at $9.99 a month, at $5 less than the premium tier.