Audience Measurement Advances

Last week the great and the good in TV and radio audience measurement from around the world met at the annual asi conference. This was the 25th annual asi event – so many congratulations to Mike Sainsbury and his team. In the interests of full disclosure, I am one of the people who help Mike, and this year I chaired the advertising session within the TV part.

There are many pluses to report. The event was in Venice (hurrah!). The sun shone (hurrah!). The papers were universally excellent (hurrah!). Progress is being made towards a TV measurement system that encompasses all devices (hurrah!). And not a single media agency attended (boo!).

TV audience measurement is a curious mix. There is a great deal of revenue at stake, and so unsurprisingly the broadcaster end of the industry is loath to rush into anything that could lose them money.

Secondly this is one of the few branches of market research where the research company invests in the hardware. Peoplemeters and the like are owned by the researchers. They are literally vested in the process.

Thirdly, even though the rest of the industry is obsessed with speed and progress, it is not simple to introduce new audience research technologies. Certainly it’s a lot harder than changing a questionnaire; or even an algorithm.

One of the core principles behind the asi event has been to bring the users of research together with those responsible for the doing of it. This is an admirable objective – it is one way to ensure that the conference doesn’t become an event at which one narrow group talks to itself.

So this year we had adtech (in Radium One); specialists in measuring advertising effect (Nielsen, Holmes and Cook and Marketshare); believers in the importance of quality content (gfk and Channel 4); a futurologist (Tracey Follows); an advertiser (Unilever) and a giant (Facebook).

Plus of course analysts (Enders, Deloittes), research companies (amongst them Kantar, Nielsen), broadcasters, the EBU and the joint industry bodies responsible for commissioning the currency work across many markets.

It was fascinating to hear of real progress in Germany, Norway, Sweden, as well as within BARB. And to hear about how TV as a medium is likely to evolve.

So why no agencies? Several were invited to speak; none accepted the invitation. No delegates from GroupM, Omnicom, Havas, Interpublic, Publicis.

This was a real shame, and for the agencies a missed opportunity. Many individuals at the tops of agencies are vocal in their criticisms of TV audience measurement. Even Sir Martin Sorrell, whose views on Nielsen in the USA in particular are well known and not particularly polite. Of course Sir Martin owns Kantar and a chunk of ComScore.

In the past I’ve compared agency rants around (as one example) BARB as being analogous to those noisy parents standing on the sidelines at their children’s football games – screaming at the referee without ever considering volunteering themselves for the role.

Here was a chance to engage with those who run TV audience measurement. To debate and to influence. And they passed it up. Remember that the next time someone takes to the pages of the trades to score cheap points off those who do a tough job.

And – by the way – the prize for the best paper? For a brilliant explanation of what her company has done and is doing to deliver unduplicated ratings across all screens, platforms and distribution models – Megan Clarken from Nielsen.

Pity no-one from GroupM was there to see it. Sir Martin could perhaps use an update.