As Measurement Looks Back, the TV Industry Should Look Ahead

Even as Nielsen loses accreditation—smart advertisers require much more than outdated measurement tools

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For 70 years in this country, the television business has been driven by measurement, which has been provided almost exclusively by Nielsen. For decades, television shows, networks, careers and brands rose and fell based on one company’s ability to measure viewership, and the resulting economic activity unleashed through that core competency.

Today, Nielsen is under pressure to adapt its measurement to address a fragmented world, one in which the notion of television viewing has expanded beyond what would have seemed possible just a few years ago. It was so much simpler when the goal was a reliable read on a family (or members of that family) sitting in front of one big TV in the living room.

But there is another inherent limitation to measurement that is very much at play in today’s hyper-competitive and fast-moving environment, and it goes beyond the ability of a single company to adapt to and measure these changing modes of consumption. At its core, measurement is about the past and what happened yesterday.

That backward-facing view, however reliable, is severely lacking when held up against the power of data and the predictive analytics that are available today. It’s like comparing a Polaroid camera to the photo capabilities on a smartphone, or a cassette tape to Spotify. Advertisers and brands in 2021 and beyond deserve and require actionable, predictive insights made possible by advanced data and analytics.

The demands of today require a forward-facing perspective

Rather than focusing on Nielsen and its efforts to confront the challenges and demands of measuring content consumption, networks and advertisers would be wise to leapfrog that question and start tapping into tools and approaches that are already driving increasingly smart decisions around media. A whole host of emerging companies are focused on delivering these actionable insights, presenting a more advanced look at what happened yesterday and, more importantly, what is likely to happen tomorrow.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean writing off measurement, or television. The rush to digital advertising over the past decade was due in no small part to the fact that digital platforms were able to deliver highly-specific data on who saw what and clicked where. But even with that enhanced level of tracking, the early flight of dollars to digital still wound up flowing back to television (most recently in the current broadcast and cable TV upfront) for a variety of reasons.

TV is not going away anytime soon

Linear and time-shifted television advertising have an unmatched ability to deliver brand safety with certainty and also allows companies to cut a wide swathe in introducing and reinforcing brand attributes and messaging, adjacent to captivating and high-quality content.

The challenge now—whether the ad is served via linear or connected TV, addressable, mobile or desktop video—is in moving beyond “measurement” to a world of advanced insights. This type of sophisticated analysis is what digital used as a siren song to woo advertisers away from TV over the last decade.

Smart advertisers require much more than measurement. They need a reliable analysis of the actions their ads unleashed. Did the impressions lead to conversion? What were the key drivers in achieving intended outcomes? Where was the impact greatest?

There is no need to guess at these answers anymore; massive viewership data sets, coupled with new models regarding predictive behavior, provide the raw material for deeper insights. This foundation is especially powerful when coupled with emerging tools like addressable advertising, programmatic buying, product placement, near real-time results and more sophisticated delivery systems, with strong privacy protections in place, always.

In relying solely on a measurement-focused orientation, advertisers will continue to wonder which half of their advertising is working and which is not. By applying advanced data analytics and attribution tools available today, advertisers can anticipate seeing twice the impact from half the reach.

The long-promised future of data and advanced analytics is here

The advances that have been made in this area over the last few years are real and meaningful. An ad performance report that used to take two months to produce just a few years ago and took less than an hour a year ago, today takes just a few minutes. The insights unleashed by these analyses, coupled with other emerging tools around attribution and prediction, are much more actionable and profound than anything that would be characterized as measurement.

In an ideal world, a company could ensure every impression reaches only those who are interested in a product and only those who also need to see the ad to be persuaded to act. There are always people who will take an action, regardless of whether or not they were prompted to do so. The key is in reaching those predisposed to act in response to a prompt or message.

This no longer needs to be a guessing game. Eventually, by using a variety of advanced tools, including AI-based prediction, the industry can get much closer to predicting results even before a campaign launches. This will improve the ad experience for all, by removing wasted impressions and serving up relevant ads that can predictively achieve results.

So instead of asking whether the notion of “measurement,” at Nielsen or anywhere else, can somehow evolve to match the way people are consuming content today, the media industry should shift towards determining what can and will happen. This requires looking at advanced tools and approaches that are being purpose-built by a new wave of companies to efficiently and effectively deliver intended outcomes. The power of knowing who is most likely to get in the car, and which car, and why, is infinitely more potent than standing on the side of the road and counting the cars that drive by.