Originally published on Los Angeles Business Journal.
The media industry is wrestling with ways to develop new methods of tracking elusive consumers across the expanding digital landscape, and leading the way are local initiatives by Culver City-based OpenAP, Sawtelle-based startup VideoAmp, Culver City-based Sony Pictures Studios Inc., and media planning and buying agency OMD, which has an office in Venice.
The digital revolution has ushered in new metrics disrupting the status quo for measuring data such as audience engagement, attribution, cross-platform comparisons and return-on-investment. In simpler pre-digital media times, advertisers and their ad agencies shared a common industry “currency,” in particular, the Nielsen TV ratings, built on demographic basics of age and gender. With new data tracking options and ways to measure the success of shows and ads, billions of entertainment and marketing dollars are at stake.
Some in the industry might crave a new single currency, but that’s considered unlikely because, for example, measuring cable TV viewership and digital audience engagement will require different metrics.
“All these competitors to Nielsen aren’t doing things the same way, so it’ll be really hard to get an actual standard across multiple companies,” said Derek Baine, managing director at Carmel-based Media Forecasting Experts Inc.
However, some industry experts indicate “inter-operability” — the ability of different systems to connect with each other — is feasible, particularly if the same audience gets tracked and measured across multiple media platforms.
New definitions of success
Ed Davis, OpenAP’s chief product officer, said his company’s platform can be looked at as a pipeline unifying different audience measurements to centralize ad campaign planning.
“We are no longer waiting for a bunch of stars to align,” Davis said. “It’s really happened.”
OpenAP is owned by Fox Corp., Comcast’s NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS Inc. And just this month, Discovery became a minority stakeholder as well. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but Discovery gained two seats on OpenAP’s board of directors in the deal.
OpenAP, which according to the company works with more than 100 advertisers, enables its owners to marry existing linear TV measures with digital metrics so the “two types of measurement can be combined for true cross-platform performance,” according to Davis. The platform is projected to run half a billion dollars in publisher-driven advertising sales fiscal year 2022, a 140% increase year over year.
Jim Keller, Discovery’s executive vice president of digital ad sales and advanced advertising, said marketers wrestle with information overload.
“There’s never been more audience data readily available from set top boxes, from connected TV to any of the measurement companies in the space,” said Keller, who is based in OpenAP’s New York office and sits on the board. He views OpenAP as a “step in the right direction to allow some digital-like targeting by linear channels.”
Another local champion is VideoAmp, a media measurement software startup that has currency partnerships with ViacomCBS and WarnerMedia. In addition, it has pilot programs with media giants Omnicom Group Inc., Dentsu Inc., GroupM, Horizon Media, Havas Media Group and Publicis Groupe. In May, VideoAmp received $75 million in debt financing from San Francisco-based Capital IP Investment Partnership.
“VideoAmp pulls in data from a wide range of providers and platforms, providing a holistic view of advanced audiences, going beyond traditional age-and-gender demos,” VideoAmp President Michael Parkes said. “We don’t foresee a new monopoly, or single currency, becoming as ingrained as it was in the past for the very reasons that it is failing the industry in its current state. Now, every publisher, content provider, agency and brand has a different definition of success as it pertains to campaigns, reach, outcomes, engagement or all of those things and more.
Standardization has been upended by the paradox of choice.”
The digital media revolution prompted major movie studio Sony Pictures Entertainment to bring its first-party data function in-house over the past five years.
“We’re controlling our data destiny” in marketing, said Elias Plishner, SPE executive vice president, worldwide digital marketing and data analytics, who is based in Culver City. First-party data is collected directly and owned, and thus not acquired from third parties. The Sony parent assembles data for the marketing teams at its businesses.
With the ongoing regulatory crackdown on consumer privacy, Plishner said that not being reliant on outside vendors is a big benefit, and in-house control allows for quick pivots in the fast-changing digital landscape.
While Nielsen projects its TV ratings from a recruited panel of 40,000 TV households with around 100,000 persons, measurement companies today can marshal millions of households via cable or satellite TV set-top digital boxes. Millions of homes might sound like an improvement and reflect the big data available in the digital age, but the Nielsen ratings had factors going for them. They determine who specifically is watching, count TV viewing in non-cable homes without set tops, and consist of a carefully managed sample that until recently has proven to be a reliable proxy for total viewing.
In addition to its dominance in traditional TV and radio audience ratings, New York-based Nielsen Holdings also provides related media-spending intelligence and is diversifying into digital media. But Nielsen has suffered some recent knocks, including losing industry accreditation for its national TV ratings in September for allegedly undercounting TV viewers, which Nielsen blames on pandemic disruptions, and in December, revealing it failed to count some out-of-home TV viewing, such as big-screen TVs in restaurants.
The other current media measurement leader is Reston, Va.-based ComScore Inc., which tracks advertising, content and the consumer consumption of media. Additional significant competitors are web media’s Facebook and Google because of their control of consumer data with their direct-to-consumer platforms. But many advertisers want data from third parties to ensure impartiality. And Facebook and Google are under regulatory and legal fire for their business practices, such as concerns over data privacy protection.
Entering the competitive data tracking space is media planning and buying agency OMD, which has developed its own unique “attention” metric to help select advertising placements that will be effective. Its attention measure is compiled with media consumption data from a third-party app that is bundled with a camera on a phone, TV set or tablet that records consumers’ advertisement watching. The level of consumer attention to the brand is then categorized.
“We are measuring the amount of time being spent with the piece of content,” said Chrissie Hanson, chief strategy officer for OMD Worldwide, who is based in the company’s Playa del Rey office. OMD is a unit of New York-based advertising agency giant Omnicom Group. “Attention is the strategic lever. With that granularity, we can also see the nuances of audience attention,” she added.
All of these companies’ high-tech efforts aim to improve the quality of audience data used to place roughly $60 billion in advertising spending on domestic TV and roughly double that online, including social, mobile video, streaming and other digital-media segments. The advertising industry relies on audience measurement to spend marketing budgets efficiently, especially to avoid excessive audience duplication that is unproductive.
And with increasingly nuanced data, companies are getting closer to targeting ad dollars to desired demographics with a level of precision out of reach in years past.