Will TV Ever Be as Acccountable as Digital?

Means-Mark-pro-photoYou will not find many folks who doubt the sales driving efficacy of TV, but many doubt there is a way to properly measure that efficacy.  The GRP is a nice measurement but it’s far from the Rosetta Stone when evaluating TV’s effect on consumer behavior.

Stimulated by the major refinements made in digital measurement, the TV sector has begun, at a somewhat irregular pace; to bring more specificity to its valuation.   The vast majority of the improvement in measurement comes in the form of honing targetability.  This is a noble effort as it endeavors to compensate for the inherent waste in exposure realized when a marketer uses such a massive scope medium.  An often-cited stat states 15-30% of message exposure misses its intended audience.  C3 or C7, OCR’s or Facebook audience measurements are interesting but there is still more room for greater precision.  The problem is that the TV industry and Nielsen are offering mere proxies for performance.  These measures reveal correlations, but not causation.

The potential for refined measurement already resides in many rooms in US households – it’s the set top box.  Nielsen uses a panel that numbers in the tens of thousands to develop its ratings.  Set top box data offers a “panel” size ranging in the tens of millions.  The key to unlock the data though has some barriers surrounding it.  In particular the fiefdoms that are the de facto owners of the data – the various cable service and satellite TV providers.  These fiefdoms interact as generously as the Seven Kingdoms in the Game of Thrones.   Case in point, the cable industry created and quickly abandoned Project Canoe, which was intended to keep the barons of cable together for the betterment of the whole.  It lasted a mere four years even after an initial $150MM was invested in its creation.

Now there are signs of potential progress on the horizon.   Relatively new media measurement centric companies, independent of the insiders within the TV industry (networks, media agency conglomerates, MSOs and to a degree Nielsen) are coming to the forefront.  Companies like Simulmedia are bringing the measurement rigor of the digital media toolbox over to the TV industry.  Simulmedia’s progress is accomplished via numerous data licensing agreements with the above-mentioned players in the TV industry.   The precision brought includes not just more nuanced targeting with TV but the real potential for attribution measurement.  That attribution would not come from expensive longitudinal data based Econometric models but from the ability to tie message exposure to action via the household’s set top box data.

Likely spurred by the more entrepreneurial upstarts, Nielsen now has offerings that merge data with vendors such as Catalina and credit card purchase records.   Such data merging is insightful for CPG and certain service providers.  Pharma advertisers can also measure their efforts in a more robust manner.  However, certain levels of data merging will need to be agreed upon.

Overall the progress towards finer attributional measurement of TV is coming.  It will not be perfect but it’s a needed step in the right direction for an industry that for too long has rested on its laurels.

Mark Means is the VP, Director of Communications Planning at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Mark is a 20-year veteran of media planning.  He has worked for a solid cross-section of media agencies, including Maxus, PHD, MPG, Initiative, Media Edge and Mindshare.  His media experience runs the gamut from packaged goods to retail to automotive to financial to health.  You name it and he has most likely had experience in that business segment.