An Epistle from the Heathens

I often catch myself staring out of my office window. My garden shed is I admit dull, but when the option is to read still more on developments within the US TV audience measurement world, its permanence reassures.

For those not fully up-to-speed with this issue, this post is here to provide a cynical (and I suppose I should make clear not a literally accurate) point-of-view.

For a far more sensible, extensive, balanced evaluation of what’s going on read this from the guys at asi.

If you think the current situation warrants a wry smile, carry on.

The provider of the prime measurement service to the US broadcast industry is Nielsen. I believe it’s been Nielsen since before the invention of the television. Some say Nielsen was standing there and someone invented TV around it. It’s always been Nielsen. I think it must be the law.

Although Nielsen has the wherewithal to report otherwise the US industry talks almost only of programme ratings. No-one directly references the audience to commercials. These are nasty interruptive things (NITs) that get in the way of the art that fills American airwaves. Inconveniently these NITs pay for everything and so their presence has to be acknowledged, albeit with the sort of sneer a certain class of Brit reserves for the word ‘trade’.

Broadcast television is the only thing that works for US advertisers. This has been true since the dawn of time. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded.

That said, there is concern around the rise of strange organisations like Google, Facebook and TikTok. These things are evil, and fraudulent, the work of the devil and no advertiser in their right mind would ever spend any money with them (actually that bit isn’t quite so crazy).

Advertisers want big audiences. On TV. The bigger the better, as long as they’re on TV. If you’re an advertiser and believe you may want something else, targeted messages, say, you’ve been attending too many conferences and your brain has become warped. This is a curable condition. Just pop along to your nearest upfront and you’ll feel better soon.

Agencies want what advertisers want and do what advertisers do. If they depart from this way of thinking they’re wrong and will soon find out why via a review.

The US view is that the rest of the world knows nothing about advertising, media, audience measurement or indeed research in general. The rest of the world is mistaken.

The US media industry can appropriate descriptors for its organisations, regardless of those descriptors meaning something else, somewhere / everywhere else (a precedent was set with The World Series). When the US broadcast industry calls something a Joint Industry Committee or JIC then that is what it is. Established bodies in overseas (aka less sophisticated) markets, like the UK’s BARB which for many decades has thought itself to be a JIC needs to reconsider. It is clearly no such thing.

The US media industry is focused 1000% on providing value to advertisers. Value is defined by big numbers (like 1000%). If you believe that there is value to be had in concepts like contextual relevance, or attention paid to what’s on the screen, or to understanding audience behaviours you’re misguided. Or a socialist. Probably both.

Buyers buy big numbers. Editorial context doesn’t matter. Nor does behaviour. Nor do end-business-results. These things over-complicate – they get in the way of delivering the big numbers by making the big numbers smaller. And that’s a bad thing (see above).

Every now and again the US media industry starts a new body to demonstrate commitment to accuracy, and innovation. Their representatives are sent out into the world like missionaries, to convert the heathens.

The heathens (aside from the odd cynical blogger) are unfailingly polite to the missionaries. They nod a lot. And they don’t change a thing. The heathens know better.

Sometimes there’s talk of alternative currencies. New methods are talked about. Advertisers express concern using words like ‘transparency’ and ‘verifiable’. Agencies consider. Everyone knows you can’t have more than one true currency, whatever happens around the margins. The currency continues.

US multinationals’ marketing and media directors are brilliant speakers, with massive budgets. They are as a result listened to, and their thoughts largely ignored. Indeed, by their actions or lack thereof they eventually ignore themselves.

Life goes merrily along. Buyers buy and sellers sell. Programmes get made; detergent gets sold.

Until one day it doesn’t.

  1. Nicely put and all to sadly accurate.

  2. Thanks Neil; glad it struck a chord! B

  3. Magic piece Brian

  4. Thank you Bob, glad you enjoyed it! B

  5. I remember the days we used to go on fact-finding tours to the States and our hosts would excitedly explain their brand new analysis capability…which the U.K. had had for years. Had to smile politely and diplomatically change the subject…

  6. Indeed – you were very polite! When I worked in the US I was often told of this wonderful research tool called the TGI, invented in the US. Unlike you I did rather feel the need to put them right!

  7. I live and work in the US. Have done for last 20 years. Regrettably could not have put it better myself. As I commented in Media Post regarding the current JIC farrago, “The Europeans have a great deal of expertise with JICs. That this “MOCkery” has got this far and is so misinformed is rather staggering. The comments in this piece are revealing. Some of us are fighting “alternative truths”!!!

  8. Thank you Tony. I do seem to have hit a chord…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *