The industry's long felt a need for better and more consistent measures, with a cross-industry group exploring and evaluating various metrics being developed by research and tracking firms. Certainly, advertisers would prefer having a widely used common metric - as it simplifies buying and placement decisions. They'd like to see something as widely used as Nielsen's TV Ratings has been for that industry - although they'd also prefer something that was more reliable and valid. Ideally, they'd like to see a metric that was based on something more than simple exposure - a measure of interest, interaction, engagement, impacts, etc. And they would prefer something sooner than later.
Nielsen's got a measure (although it remains focused on exposure), and has been successful at getting some large ad agencies and advertisers to use it. But it doesn't meet all the desired criteria the industry's been talking about as useful, if not critical in a new online audience metric. ComScore, a rival metrics firm that bases its measures on audience behaviors as reflected in data flow metrics, has been challenging Nielsen's metrics as not capturing "viewability" of online ads (in the sense of engagement and/or impact). A spokesman for GroupM tried to be dismissive about that argument, arguing that "viewability" will be less important because the ad servers could track that.
Here's the essence of what they're arguing about (I'm simplifying for illustrative purposes here) - Nielsen has a way to count how many people visit a page with an ad - say an online video ad. ComScore has a way of not only knowing how many people visited the ad, but also how many watched it. The GroupM dismissal is saying that the ad servers will know how many times they streamed the video ad, but not necessarily how much of it was watched. (And doesn't indicate that they're not all using the same metrics, and that the data are proprietary and not likely to be available for a shared industry metric).
The more critical underlying issue, though, is the complexity of the online environment, and groups and firms are seeking to make use of the Net for a wide variety of advertising, marketing, and public relations - and increasingly are developing and utilizing the messaging potential of the Net in new and innovative ways. And it's not at all clear that all of them can be reliably and validly measured by a single common metric. Just consider the recent battle in the TV market about what types of viewing gets counted - the traditional Nielsen ratings counted "live" viewing at home (as broadcast). But then what about time-shifted viewing (DVRs) that now make up 20% or more of program viewing - or Internet streamed videos - or viewing on PCs, laptops, mobile devices? If someone's simultaneously watching multiple programs (using multiple sets, PIP, tablets as second streams), how is that to be counted? The TV ad market's been dealing with this for years. But once an industry establishes a consensus standard, it becomes difficult to reach a consensus on a new standard, even if all parties agree the old one doesn't really work well anymore.
Certainly, the online advertising market would like to reach a consensus standard - particularly as the marketing and advertising dollars designated for online continues its rapid rise. And certainly, Nielsen would like to have their metric set as the new standard - it means lots of money for them coming on the heels of several TV ratings debacles in the last few years. And certainly, ad agencies and advertisers would benefit from having a common "currency for online advertising buts."
The problem is that Nielsen's proposed new standard doesn't appear to adequately measure the full range of online users exposure to, interest in, and reaction to, the full range of advertising and marketing messages that the Internet has the potential of embracing. It's doubtful that any single metric would, but there's no question that there are other potential metrics that might capture at least some of the more meaningful uses. So here's my question for the industry -
Is the need for a consensus online advertising metric so urgent that the industry will settle for a "minimally acceptable" standard rather than work to improve and refine the measurement of online advertising audiences. Particularly if history shows that relying on a consensus standard tends to delay and/or defer the development and acceptance of improved ways of measuring an expanded variety of audience behaviors.Nielsen's a good company, for the most part, but I also think that there are a number of other interesting alternative metrics being developed and refined. Nielsen's kimping the gun here, and I hope the industry doesn't rush into accepting "viable" too quickly.
Source - Nielsen Chief: GroupM Pushing XCR As Cross-Platform Ratings Standard, Asserts It's A Fait Accompli, OnliineMediaDaily