RIDING THE NEXT WAVE
Can audience measurement measure up to the changing content consumption landscape? Eleanor Dickinson reports from IBC 2016
Exploring immersive content.
H ow do you imagine an ‘audience’? This was a issue under regular scrutiny at this year’s International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam. With new technologies and behaviours ‘gnawing at the edges’ of traditional media, as one TV head viscerally put it, the challenge of really knowing who is consuming digital content, has left media companies struggling. Television’s crown has been usurped by digital content, and watching video behind multiple screens – sometimes at the same time – has become a household norm. Even in an era when digital-driven measurement of TV and catch-up platforms sit comfortably alongside traditional panel models, the general consensus at this year’s IBC was that technological advancements will only create more problems for media analysts, not solve them.
“It’s much harder because to reach scale you have to hit your target audience in so many different ways,” explains Lee Rafferty, executive vice-president of marketing and communications at US-based TV network NBC-Universal International. “You now need to tailor content not only to the brand and audience, but also to the platform you’re on. It’s incredibly resource-intensive, but the upside is that now we’re getting real-time data from a campaign, which you can tweak and tailor as you’re going on. Before, we used to argue which campaign would work, but now we put [two] on and optimise from there.”
While many on the conference circuits prefer to think of audience measurement as driving a more human relationship between the brand and the consumer, for Martin Greenbank, head of advertising research and development at UK television network Channel 4, the concept is altogether more bestial.
“With measuring video as a whole, is it like an elephant, some giant beast that will get bigger and bigger, or like a unicorn, a mythical entity we will never achieve?” he asks. “My view is that it is a bit of an elephant and that we should not get too distracted by the myth. An elephant may seem cumbersome and slow, but it is faster than Usain Bolt, believe it or not. And the industry measurements around have amazing strength and are a representative sample of the populations they represent. Like elephants, they take a long time to get there through evolution and many changes.”
Continuing his zoological metaphor, Greenbank adds: “If you think of spiders, they have multiple eyeballs. If you’re measuring an ad or content delivery through a digital measure, you can only see that it’s gone to a digital device. Whereas we know that, like spiders, households have multiple eyeballs on the sofa and you have to be able to describe that. And that’s where we have moved into: translating digital measurement into multiple demographically and discretely targeted audiences that we can sell to advertisers.
“The important bit here is that you’re not selling something that is of multiple value; you’re using this information to prove to the buyer that they’re getting the people they expect to be reaching at the start of that transaction. I think we’re entering a world where all these animals are converging – a zoo of measurement techniques. But it requires a lot of coordination and design and, like any successful zoo, it takes people to build the zoo, but it takes quite a lot of zookeepers to make sure they all work together.”
Yet while data harvesting may make the job easier for media planners – and, as some would argue, even do their role for them – the information gleaned does little to influence the content itself, so Greenbank believes.
“I think we’re talking about marginal gains, though, when we’re using that data” he says. “The idea of coming with a better programme is going to make a far greater difference to the size and quality of your audience than when you tinker around the edges of using the data. It can be explanatory and help you deliver to advertising audiences in a more efficient and effective way, but fundamentally for a broadcaster our core aim is to make better programmes. And to this point data has not suggested it can help design programmes.”
But where does this leave social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube? These outlets arguably now have a bigger role and influence than television on viewers’ media habits, especially when it comes to news consumption among millennials. In the Middle East, the overall use of online news sources among youth grew from 40 per cent in 2015 to 45 per cent today, with social media up from 25 per cent to 32 per cent, according to Asda’a Burson-Marsteller’s 2016 Arab Youth Survey. While audience reach on a superficial level is easily measured in terms of click and hit numbers, understanding real and conscious engagement levels continues to dog media planners. Last year, Exponential MENA’s Amer M. Attyeh told Campaign how videos of “short emotive experiences” would become a strategy staple.
However, at IBC, Ricky Sutton, founder of Australia-based video analytics company Oovvuu, took a more pessimistic approach. According to him, content quality itself has little overall impact. “Facebook genuinely does not care what is being watched,” he says. “Whether it’s a kitten being sick in a bucket or someone shooting drone footage or a brilliant TV view, they just don’t care. It’s just a view, it has an ad against it and they sell it and make money. And I think that’s a real problem.” He adds: “I think with the ‘ Napalm girl’ story [when Facebook in September removed copies of a Pulitzer-winning photograph of a naked child running from an attack during the Vietnam War], they showed this week that they are out of touch with their responsibility.”