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February 15, 2021

Unity Versus Reality in Media Measurement

The CIMM’s (Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement) recent virtual summit once again pushed for the creation of a unified means of measuring media across platforms—or, more accurately, TV and digital platforms. We have discussed this topic before, but it is worth revisiting because the issues inherent in pursuing such a goal still present a major, perhaps insurmountable impediment that must be faced realistically. 

To begin with, there are methodological questions related to unified cross-platform measurement. Even if there were a single metric to start from, an accurate comparison of a digital ad to a linear ad, for example, would need to make adjustments for the following factors:  the amount of commercial clutter in a break; length of message; what device the ad is viewed on; the type of content the ad appears in; and whether other content appears on the screen at the same time. Beyond that, there are more issues that require additional guesswork, such as whether this is a new ad campaign or an old one and how interesting the product/service category is to consumers. Coming up with a magic metric that ignores the aspect of actual eyes-on-screen exposure, yet signifies something meaningful, is probably an exercise in futility. And trying to dig in even deeper to determine the awareness or sales results of "impressions", which involve legions of phantom viewers, is really shooting for the moon. So, even if a single metric were somehow settled up on, it would only be the beginning of the process, and analysts would still need to make the kinds of deeper evaluations that they already do on the rare occasions that they actually perform cross-platform comparisons.

Beyond this, however, is the problem of thinking—or wishing—that the media should work together on this issue. Measuring cross-platform audiences requires a unified panel which can track its members' exposure across platforms. But who’s paying for it? Why should a TV network or ad selling network be responsible for properly measuring more than its own audience? Would they pay to explore ad effectiveness across media, which obviously runs the risk of funding research that shows them “losing” to their competitors? Some advocate that advertisers and agencies should pay for this phase, but most currently pay little or nothing for TV audience measurement. Yet they are now clamoring for the media to do the attribution job for them and fund a service that somehow will provide such information on a national basis. Setting aside the methodological issues we’ve already mentioned, if they are unwilling to pony up for such an endeavor, then all this talk is simply grandstanding.

As long as advertisers pay basically nothing for audience measurement and agencies pay only a small part of the costs, leaving ad sellers as the primary funders, little will change. It's unrealistic to expect that a wide variety of ad sellers, each with their own revenues and profits at stake, will endorse anything that might diminish their ability to garner the highest possible ad revenues.

For a comprehensive analysis of cross-platform media issues, Media Dynamics, Inc.'s annual report, Cross-Platform Dimensions, is designed to help make realistic evaluations of the audiences and advertising efficacy of TV, digital, radio, print and out-of-home on a comparative basis. The 2021 edition will be released later this month.

Digital Usage Winners and Losers in 2019

 PQ Media’s Global Consumer Media Forecast 2020-24 recently received a good deal of press coverage for its estimate that traditional media usage fell almost 1% in 2019, while digital media usage was up 8%. While we don’t find this information particularly surprising or alarming—after all, despite digital’s explosive growth over the past decade, “traditional” TV still retains the lion’s share of media time spent—we were interested in how the numbers played out within digital media. Per PQ Media’s report, there were some clear frontrunners, with mobile video and audio, as well as m-books/directories/databases either approaching or exceeding 20% growth in 2019. Close behind, with growth rates between 10-15% were mobile games, periodicals and serials, news and information and OTT video. Digital OOH, mobile social media, satellite radio, online video, ebooks/directories/databases, and online game usage also grew in 2019, albeit at more modest rates of less than 10%.

This was offset by declines in other digital sectors, with the following experiencing usage rates down as much as 10% from the previous year: online periodicals/serials; online social media; mobile search and texts; online news/information; console, PC and handheld games; m-Commerce and other content/data; online audio, online search and emails; and e-Commerce and other content/data.

What the data suggest to us is some that sectors within digital pull into the lead at the expense of others, e.g., mobile periodicals and serials are up while online periodicals and serials are down. Clearly, digital is not the all-growth monolith that it is sometimes portrayed to be, and is subject to changing technologies, just as TV has been, with emerging platforms. Is it possible that someday soon we will hear reports of the impending “death of online” just as we have about linear television? Time will tell.


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