When Will There Be One Metric for All Screens?

Get used to low accuracy

The dream of every client and media agency is simple: one metric that works across every single screen—television, tablet, smartphone, computer. But, either ironically or inevitably, depending on who you talk to, high-tech means low accuracy.

“There’s a limited set of channels on television,” Nielsen’s Andrew Feigenson, svp, digital client service, told Adweek. “When you move to the digital landscape and you’re dealing with a lot of long-tail content and very personalized viewing patterns, the panels become a lot more difficult.” (The online panel is orders of magnitude larger. A partnership with Facebook gives Nielsen’s Web ratings “a hundreds-of-millions-of-persons sample size.”)

One publisher, who asked to be quoted anonymously because negotiations were still going on, said that he was having to deal with a client that wanted to buy guarantees against comScore data—which, he said, ignored up to 30 percent of his viewership. “What’s worse is they’re going to make us sell to them based on adults 18-24, but they’re going to negotiate as though it was a broad household demo. They’re going to negotiate down to eight bucks and then say, ‘OK, great, we want that overlay.’” In other words, buyers almost want demo guarantees for free.

On TV, the major adult age demos are measured in intervals of at least 20 years because the smaller the group, the harder to measure accurately. That’s also true here, but expectations are different.

“The online world has created an impression that audiences are 100 percent against what you’d expect them to be,” Feigenson said. “One hundred percent accuracy has been accidentally baked into business models.”

Blip’s Jason Krebs agrees, but he says it may just be the problem with online video for a while. “I’m not crying about it; it’s our reality,” Krebs said. “There are definitely going to be sales opportunities where the only thing the buyer cares about is measuring TV and digital together, and they will say that only Nielsen and ComScore numbers matter. And if you can’t deal with it, you can’t be on our plan and good luck.”

But Krebs and Mary Shirley, Horizon Media’s vp of digital activation, say that buyers with their eye on only TV-like measures such as Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings and comScore’s VCE (verified campaign essentials) may be missing deeper opportunities with smaller publishers.

“You have to factor in other metrics,” Shirley said. “Is there something we can do with the content to just make it that much more effective?”