Metrics for the Future of TV Advertising

13 July 2012 | Blog

Weisler Media recently commented on discussions about cross platform metrics, which generated a lot of discussion at the ARF 7.0 Insights Conference. There’s a lot of debate over what kind of metrics the media industry should be heading for. Is advertising ROI a sufficient indicator? Should the Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings simply be combined with their traditional TV audience measurements, or is their closest approximation no longer sufficient? It’s not the first time metrics changes have been proposed; TV history is littered with previous failed attempts. But increasing changes to the landscape has brought new urgency to the issue.

The article notes that Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement Managing Director Jane Clark expressed an industry interest in “the creation of a single source, scalable measurement system and perhaps a move away from pure demographics to ‘targeted exposure metrics’”. It’s an exciting idea, as the online world alone has increasingly focused on targeting. With audiences more fragmented than ever, broad demographics no longer seem relevant. The geeks and the sports fans and the soccer moms have more in common with their chosen tribes than their census groups, and their viewing (and buying) habits confirm this. As the tribalism of the internet encourages us to increasingly self-select into the digital realms in which we find the content and advertisements most relevant to our own lives, the old methods of measuring TV advertising are ripe for modernization.

But focusing on “targeted exposure metrics” alone risks missing the big picture, quite literally. Despite the fact that television content continues to fragment into an increasing number of niche options, TV retains an advantage of audience reach that the Internet cannot boast. There’s a reason no one is proposing using online campaign ratings and ignoring traditional TV entirely. As a country, we’re watching more TV than ever—while it’s true that average program ratings have been declining, it is also true that people are watching more TV in total. For example, there is far greater variety of sports programming on television, but it has resulted in more total viewers, spending more time watching sports on TV. The broad reach of TV continues to be the most efficient way to deliver a message to as many people as easily and cheaply as possible. Focusing solely on the ability to finely target specific groups misses the opportunity to take advantage of those broad, voracious viewing habits that make television advertising so efficient.

The real power lies in combining the two. Instead of giving in the temptation to only buy the thin slice of an audience, isn’t it better to preserve that efficient reach by buying the broad swath, and then using those targeted metrics to determine and deliver the most effective message to each specific consumer target? Targeted TV advertising has the potential to take advantage of new metrics being discussed, without losing what made television great in the first place.

A change from traditional metrics could open up new potential for everyone involved, from advertisers to ad sellers to the consumers themselves. It’s not a change that will be easy, and it will probably require a lot more discussions like ARF’s. But the benefits could be enormous. In the end, though, completely throwing out the old system and replacing it with targeted metrics ignores the value of the current system. It would be far better to add targeted metrics to complement the current metrics.