Change Happens Slowly …

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked. “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”  Ernest Hemingway ‘The Sun Also Rises’.

Or, to put it another way, change happens slowly, then all at once.

It’s a leap from Hemingway to audience measurement but what we are witnessing is the acceleration of change following decades of not very much happening at all.

We have become used to a system of collaboration. In the UK, and in almost every significant ad market bar the USA this happens via the JIC model.

Everyone agrees on the principles, then a research agency is hired to deliver.

Take BARB, and its UK predecessor, JICTAR. The BBC and the commercial broadcasters had and still have different priorities from TV audience measurement. One cares about advertisers, the other couldn’t care less.

Yet on certain key principles – like what defines a viewer – both sides come together to agree.

Consequently we have a system built around a rock.

The issue is not the rock, but how to build around it; we worry about technique, not the structure.

This is all fine as long as everyone involved plays the game and can agree on the principles. But as soon as someone questions the rock all bets on the surrounding’s structural integrity are off.

This is where we are now.

The erosion started slowly – when some of the UK’s largest newspapers refused to publish independently collected sales numbers.

No-one much noticed or cared. Newspapers are a thing of the past, all anyone cares about is online impressions and clicks went the (deeply fallacious) argument.

But now things are speeding up.

The major online platforms argue, with some merit that the way in which video content on their platforms is viewed is different from large screen TV, whether broadcast or not.

Further they’re different from each other, YouTube does not equal TikTok.

If people view these things differently it stands to reason that what counts as a viewer should also vary.

So why should FB, Google and the rest join the BARB club and abide by its rules; and why should BARB change its rules to accommodate those whose commercial success depends in part upon them proving that they’re an equivalent home for TV budgets?

There was a moment when there was talk of a JIC for online audience measurement; but the idea never really caught on and so we are now in a situation where everyone publishes their own numbers, which are not as a matter of course independently verified.

The result is un-managed chaos and far too much time spent trying to fit together that which was never designed to fit together.

I see measurement of effect as a pyramid. At the bottom is measuring how many people had an opportunity to see the material within which my ad appeared.

Then we go up, stage by stage to the pinnacle which measures how many people saw my specific ad and then took action that commercially benefits the brand.

We’re largely still stuck in the weeds at the bottom, or maybe one or two up from the bottom of the pyramid.

Collaboration between video channels at a measurement currency level, at the bottom of the pyramid has unsurprisingly proved impossible; so it becomes essential we do everything we can to move the debate up several levels.

This advance needs to be advertiser driven – which is why I am a fan of ISBA’s Origin initiative. Personally, I like the approach ISBA is taking, but even if you quibble with the technical detail, the vision of a commercial media industry where measurement is informed by advertiser needs seems to me unarguable.

The alternative is to witness a collapse of collaboration in audience measurement.

To end up with competing systems that are not comparable, and which hinder planning. To have an industry driven not by a striving to understand overall outcomes and effect but by narrow, parochial measurements designed to do one thing – the one thing in question being that of greatest perceived commercial benefit to the sponsor of the research.

To spend time arguing the toss on why my measure beats your measure as opposed to working out how best to use this or that channel to my brand’s best advantage.

The signs are that this is the way the US is going with multiple currencies. In my view this is a mistake.

I believe collaboration beats self-interest.

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