Audience Measurement Migrates From Homes To People

TV audience measurement has been moving steadily from households to individuals in line with the decline in family viewing around the big screen and rise in OTT consumption on connected devices.

At one time, TV viewing was almost synonymous with the household and so was well reflected by traditional audience panels administered by the likes of Nielsen in the US and BARB (Broadcasters' Audience Research Board) in the UK, or Video Research in Japan.

These panels, where a selected sample of households are polled regularly by these agencies or dedicated market research firms such as Ipsos Mori on their behalf, are still being conducted. However, their value has diminished as advertisers seek measurements of engagement that embrace all platforms and as far as possible ascribe weights to each representative of their value.

Increasingly, consumers start viewing on one device and resume on another after pausing and that needs to be captured by audience measurement firms, while taking account of the fact that an ad viewed on a big screen may have more impact than on a smartphone. On the other hand, a smartphone ad might be more likely to trigger an interactive response, such as to book a test drive of a car, or even instigate a direct purchase. There is also the desire to capture the impact of brand awareness campaigns that are conducted across platforms in the hope of exploiting the strengths of each and reinforcing the message.

As part of this movement, Nielsen has just launched an Identity (ID) resolution system designed to ensure accurate measurement of audiences across platforms without duplicated counting as far as possible. The aim is to achieve this in a world governed by more stringent privacy regulations where the measurement agency cannot rely on cookies downloaded to users’ devices to determine identities.

The key point is that advertisers do not need to identify viewers, just to follow the viewing journey of anonymized individuals across multiple devices to obtain a count of engagement broken down by demographic and socio-economic factors. Nielsen takes as its starting point its panel truth set based on interviews to establish base points for calibration of its emerging people based data sets allowing cross channel and platform measurement. The objective is to ensure that advertisers can be confident that when an ad is viewed by an individual, the audience is accurately measured across all platforms including mobile, PC and TV and deduplicated to avoid multiple counts. Demographics are also incorporated so that audiences can be diced by various socioeconomic and other factors to gain more insight into the total value of engagement.

This comes to the key technical and logistical point, which is that Nielsen is working with the Trade Desk (TTD) headquartered in Ventura, California, which is almost certainly the world’s largest demand-side platform (DSP) providing real-time ad pricing and placement for advertisers at agencies and brands. This then is a programmatic advertising platform allowing automated trading of ads on the basis of supply and demand.

With Nielsen, TTD is developing an industry standard called Unified ID 2.0 designed to facilitate identification of users via hashed and encrypted email addresses. This is providing a framework for interoperability between the Nielsen ID and third party platforms as well as publishers, while adhering to privacy rules over anonymization.

Mainak Mazumdar is Nielsen’s Chief Data Officer.

Mainak Mazumdar is Nielsen’s Chief Data Officer.

“By underpinning our audience and outcomes measurement products with our unique ID resolution methodology, we are futureproofing our business and products from ongoing technology and regulatory changes,” claimed Mainak Mazumdar, Chief Data Officer at Nielsen. “Backed by Nielsen’s gold-standard panels, we are building the blocks for a privacy-centric, flexible approach to measuring individuals’ exposure to ads across all media to power the media industry well into the future.”

According to Nielsen, without accuracy cross platform measurement is of little value. Unlike ID resolution used for targeting when the aim is just to reach individuals on whatever platform they are viewing, IDs used for measurement must be consistent and persistent across all platforms, publishers and devices to ensure audience behavior and preferences are observed with accuracy and precision.

Nielsen is now working with the Media Rating Council (MRC) to review the new resolution methodology and ensure it meets the standards for audience measurement. It says it will begin a phased approach to rolling out the ID resolution system in the US starting Q1 2021.

Although Nielsen has gained plaudits for this ID resolution technology, it has been criticized for backing off over another area where it had promised to deliver, measurement of out of home viewing. This has led to sharp rebukes in the US from broadcasters or networks which had hoped that measurement of big screen viewing away from the home in hotels and public venues would help increase their income from advertisers. The point is that additional ad viewing at such venues would increase the total aggregate count of hours by which payments for ads are calculated.

Nielsen argued that such viewing had fallen off a cliff during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as far people travelled to bars, offices and hotels, but at least that should show up in higher engagement at home. Nielsen issued a statement to the effect that “the COVID-19 pandemic has had a far reaching effect on the media industry and on consumer viewing habits. Throughout this crisis, out-of-home audiences have been particularly hard hit, with estimates falling by as much as 60%. This is driven by broad stay-at-home orders, significant reduction in travel, closures of restaurants and public gathering establishments, and other situations that have reduced exposure to television content outside of the home. The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is expected to create further volatility in this space, making it challenging for the industry to plan around this audience segment. “

But at least one media giant complained vehemently. “Nielsen’s abrupt delay of the long-planned integration of out of home viewing into the national TV currency less than two months before it was scheduled to be implemented is unacceptable and unjustifiable,” said ViacomCBS in a statement. “ViacomCBS – along with our peers and the trade organization VAB – is calling on Nielsen to reverse its decision.”

So Nielsen may be pleasing advertisers more than broadcasters.

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