A Critical Review of Audience and Media Measurement Today
As audience viewing preferences and video technologies evolve, there is an emerging view that paradigms and rules should adjust to meet those changes. Recent calls for a new system, or systems, of media measurement have resounded throughout the media and advertising ecosystem, especially among networks and advertisers. Today, the media industry is engaged in an unprecedented process of self-evaluation designed to address disaffection for the status quo. While most of the criticism has been levied against the industry-standard Nielsen model, there are challenges for other incumbents and competitors as well.
Against this backdrop, The New Rules of Media Measurement -- Rebalancing the Scales presents a critical examination and review of the key proposals, initiatives and recommendations for change in audience and media measurement. We have researched the data, reviewed the public record, and interviewed industry experts to provide an in-depth report on one of the most pressing challenges facing media today.
The mandate for a new measurement framework -- or frameworks -- is clear and present. Advertisers, agencies, brands, broadcasters, distributors, networks, publishers and platforms, collectively, have issued a clarion call for change. With billions of dollars at stake, the urgency of the circumstances demands nothing less.
As the media industry continues its critical, yet constructive, introspection, we have compiled a novel set of rules to inform and instruct the process going forward, based on a selective survey of key concerns, recommendations and proposals. Our intent is to manage the moment. If today's debate on media measurement is to have any integrity, it must incorporate a few basic, mutually-agreed principles. What follows is our contribution towards that end, which is proffered as a starting point for more inclusive dialogue.
In sum, we recommend that each and every measurement system(s) -- no matter its ownership -- should embrace and embody the following principles:
Every measurement system, method, protocol, and currency -- and provider -- should be accountable to an autonomous, independent, unaffiliated entity, namely the Media Rating Council (MRC), which has the capacity, capability and competence to independently audit, assess and certify the veracity and viability of the measurement system to deliver accurate outcomes for advertisers, broadcasters, networks and other media.
Rationale: Accountability to an independent entity preserves the integrity of the system and reliability of the data. Founded as the Broadcast Rating Council in 1964 following Congressional investigations and hearings, the Media Rating Council has over 50 years of ethical and independent experience and expertise in the review, accreditation and regulation of advertising and video content. With the proliferation of media sources and viewing options, such a role is more crucial now than ever before.
Measurement providers should be completely autonomous -- independent of any advertiser, broadcaster, media, network, publisher or delivery platform.
Rationale: Independence from all advertising and media entities will preserve the integrity and objectivity of the system. To avoid any real or perceived conflicts of interest concerning the review, auditing, accreditation or enforcement of measurement systems, it is important that measurement providers are not also functioning as, or invested in, content producers, providers or platforms themselves.
Measurement systems should include broad, diverse and dynamic datasets from multiple sources, including qualitative and quantitative data while taking care to integrate and deduplicate multiple elements.
Rationale: Advertisers and media need comprehensive data to make prudent and commercially practical commitments and financial decisions. Recognizing the growing fragmentation of audiences, single source measurement systems are incomplete and unreliable. There are inherent strengths and weaknesses provided by each data source. Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) present amazing scale but miss texture and nuances. Panels provide unique insights but are limited in scope. Measurement firms reporting data including person characteristics should have some of that data gathered from actual persons, not just modeled. Thus, both types
of data are necessary for a comprehensive view of person, device and household viewing.
Measurement systems should be deliberately inclusive and representative, taking into account the entire audience, including demographic markers such as age, ethnicity, faith, gender, geography, race, sexual orientation, and other identifying factors
Rationale: Accurately counting minority audiences has been a consistent challenge for almost every measurement system and provider despite the growth of minority populations and their over-consumption in numerous media categories. Any and all new measurement systems must avoid the past biases and historic under-counting of these consumers, especially media consumers of color.
Measurement providers should identify and disclose the details of their methodology to clients and auditors upon request, provided there are reasonable measures to protect private and proprietary information from unauthorized disclosure.
Rationale : With the increased utilization of AI, machine learning and other algorithmic formulas, advertisers and media deserve to know how audience and media measurement systems are designed, structured and operated. A reasonable degree of transparency of the system should be expected and provided by measurement providers as a matter of course, respecting proprietary and confidentiality concerns.
Measurement systems should contain a level of technical, practical and procedural consistency and methodology throughout the entire process.
Rationale : Consistency, predictability and reliability are important to advertisers and media and essential to the advertising ecosystem and commercial market. Without a consistent process, customers are unable to rely on measurement outcomes from one period to another. Such a result is not sustainable for advertisers or media in the long term.
Measurement systems should be flexible and adaptable to accommodate: (1) The proliferation of channels and mediums of consumption; (2) The changing preferences and proclivities of audiences, and (3) The evolution of content delivery modes, methods, platforms and technologies.
Rationale : Audiences and technologies shift, evolve and change but systems should be designed to adapt to these developments while maintaining their intrinsic integrity, in addition to the ability to react and maintain performance on all parameters in the face of changes in media technology, pandemics, cybersecurity, supply chain problems and other extraordinary events.
Measurement providers should adhere to all laws, rules and regulations, in addition to standard industry practices, to protect the individual privacy and personal information of clients and consumers.
Rationale : Data privacy is important and should be preserved and protected as a matter of principle. Doing so is also a business best practice. As consumers become more concerned over the use of their data and personal information, both with and without their consent, measurement providers should prioritize individual privacy to maintain trust and integrity.
Measurement systems should be capable of measuring audiences across each and every platform and viewing source, individually, collectively and cross-platform, while at the same time deduplicating across viewing sources.
Rationale : Today's consumers are media, mobile and platform agnostic. Unlike in a bygone era, they no longer live in media silos. They cross and mix various media platforms with ease, often simultaneously. And they want media to respond to their tastes, behaviors and practices New measurement systems must be capable of consistently measuring activity on linear, digital, CTV, VOD, OTA, OOH platforms without duplicating measurement outcomes. And that measurement must be accurate and timely across every platform.
Measurement systems should contain a uniform set of criteria to advance competition among measurement providers and allow like-for-like comparisons by advertisers, broadcasters, media, publishers and platforms.
Rationale : Uniformity is essential for advertisers and media to plan, assess and compare. Adherence to (1) standards, as advanced and enforced by the MRC, and (2) principles as promulgated here, will allow companies to make critical decisions and compete for business in the marketplace. Competition is important and can only occur if there are uniform elements adopted and implemented by measurement providers.
Measurement systems should have the capacity to process maximum amount of data with speed and efficiency without delay or compromise in the quality of outcomes.
Rationale : While efficiency is difficult to quantify, customers of measurement services are demanding more efficient systems. Advertisers, agencies, networks, publishers and providers have come to expect efficient, reasonably priced services, which include, among other things, real-time, relevant, quality data and analytics.
Lag time in the reporting of data is no longer acceptable in the market.
Measurement systems should be conducted with accuracy and precision, informed by data-science, Big Data and AI algorithms, and balanced by qualitative demographic data and relevant analytics.
Rationale : Accuracy has been an elusive component for many measurement firms and the lack of accuracy remains one of the most prominent criticisms. Advertisers, networks, media and publishers deserve accurate measurement of consuming audiences, which can best be delivered using a combination of quantitative and qualitative data. Big Data alone is not sufficient to measure hard-to reach populations. Systems must have the consistent capacity to deduplicate, verify and quantify audience viewing. Methods and processes should be supported by empirical evidence of this accuracy, which can allow auditors to review and recreate when necessary.
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