Redefining Audience Measurement in the Multi-Screen Universe

Exactly how many screens are there in our new multi-screen environment? And which of these screens do advertisers and broadcasters need to focus on first? What changes do they need to make to their offerings to ensure success, and how do they go about measuring their impact and performance?

In a recent speech before a group of broadcasting executives in Toronto, Fred Forster, CEO of Omnicom Canada (a worldwide network of advertising and communications agencies), said the old way of doing things is pretty much useless in today’s multi-screen world. He also explained that Big Data, a collection of large data sets gathered on the internet by connected beings (either human or machine), is about to take over their industry, an industry that now operates in an “ad-skipped, channel-shifted, time-shifted, place-shifted, device-shifted […] content world,” as he so eloquently put it.

In this context it’s easy to understand why the advertising industry is so excited about what Big Data promises to deliver. And we also get that advertising still plays a pivotal role in the television business model in addition to also being increasingly important in the online broadcast platform business model.

As shown in the Digital TV Research chart below, advertising revenue from “stationary” online television and video platforms (research did not take mobile devices into account) reached $6 billion worldwide in 2012 – which represents 54% of the industry’s revenue – and is expected to reach close to $15 billion in 2017. But according to the study’s projections, the industry’s share should drop to 51% of total revenue in 2017 while revenue generated by subscriptions and DTO (download to own) material is expected to increase by at least 1% (from 23% to 24% and from 14% to 15%, respectively).

The online video and television market reaches a daily average of 75 million viewers who watch close to 40 billion videos per month in the US alone. Canadians rank second behind the British in terms of the average number of hours spent viewing video content online while Americans take third place.

Video watching is on the rise thanks to a booming content supply that can be viewed on any of the many connected and mobile screens that have “taken over” our lives. Based on a study published by Google in August 2012, 90% of our interactions with the media are now initiated through a screen (the remaining 10% are through radio, magazines and print newspapers).

The possibility for consumers to start their online activity on one screen and continue it on another without running into any issues is one of the challenges facing the advertising industry today. More and more consumers are enjoying the benefits of mobile and on-demand video content every day. Some 43% of participants in the Google study reported having started watching video content on one device and finished watching it on a different one.

People used to watch videos in their spare time, either before or after their work day. Now they “steal” time to view video content throughout the day. Our video-consumption habits have been forever changed by the mobility and the increasing number of screens we use on a daily basis. And there’s no going back.

Having access to video content “anytime, anywhere” is truly convenient for consumers. But it’s a real nightmare for the audience-rating specialists who determine how business is carried out between advertisers and broadcasters. This represents $75 billion in the US and a little over $2 billion in Canada. These “referees” are concerned that the measurement methods they use don’t take into account the growing number of viewers who access programs other than through “official” screens.

In early 2013 several players announced they would conduct trials and enter into partnerships in order to overcome this obstacle. Their challenge is to figure out how to reach the entire audience of specific video content on all platforms where it’s broadcast at all the different times it’s shown by identifying each “individual” and not count anyone more than once.

On February 21, 2013 Nielsen announced it would be adding 160 households that do not have cable but instead use a broadband internet connection to watch television to the panel of 23,000 “television” households surveyed to generate American TV ratings.

Critics say it’s too little, too late. In their opinion, Nielsen’s approach is too focused on the actual TV screen and does not factor in mobile-screen viewing, a trend that is becoming increasingly popular day by day. (Nielsen promised they will eventually find a way to record tablet viewership which has been impossible to do so far due to serious technical difficulties.)

In December 2012 Nielsen invested $1.26 billion to acquire Arbitron, a business specializing in radio ratings. Arbitron has also developed the PPM (Portable People Meter) system (used by BBM in Canada), a portable metre that can record ratings for digital broadcasters and analog cable operators whether their content is transmitted by antenna, cable, satellite or internet. Nielsen also announced a partnership with Twitter to rate television programs based on the number of Tweets generated. The company is hopeful these new tools will help identify all media-related consumer habits.

Just recently, internet ratings specialist comsCore and Sony Pictures online Crackle network (advertising driven) announced a partnership first for the industry. Their goal is to provide an accurate picture of viewers by using the comsCore technology to follow viewers through their multi-screen journey regardless of the screens used and without losing their trail or counting anyone twice.

In Canada, BBM announced recently – in reaction to Nielsen’s announcement – that they will expand the PPM capability significantly in late 2013 as they introduce the ability to directly measure encoded material from services like Video on Demand whether delivered from cable, or websites, and consumed on almost any screen. It seems we’re not as concerned with this matter as they are in the US where finding ways of eliminating duplicates in mass audiences – such as the 109 million Super Bowl viewers who watched the event on TV and the three million who streamed it off the CBS website – has become a priority.

So exactly how many screens are there in the new audiovisual ecosystem? Google’s study on the new multimedia universe says the answer is four: smartphones, tablets, computers and television sets. However, a smart TV specialist says it’s seven if you take into account the various platforms advertisers can reach consumers on: “traditional” television sets, personal video recorders (PVRs), video-on-demand (VOD), full-episode players (FEP) for online broadcasts, tablets, smartphones and connected TVs.

Four, ten, twenty, a thousand…does it really matter how many screens there are in our new multimedia universe? Google head of mobile product solutions in Southern and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Robbie Douek, has the last word on the matter: “These questions are becoming increasingly harder to answer as viewers divide content watching on different screens that are more and more alike with each passing day. We need to change our outlook on the situation and think in terms of “content” logic rather than “screen” logic if we’re ever going to get anywhere close to solving this problem.”

Danielle Desjardins
Danielle Desjardins offers analysis, research and writing services for media and cultural enterprises through her company, La Fabrique de sens. Before that, she was director of planning for Radio-Canada, where she was responsible for strategic, corporate and regulatory matters for more than 20 years.
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