Funding Audience Measurement

For the last seven and a half years the Cog Blog has provided a weekly platform for me to rant on about this or that pet hate, to vent on what I see as industry wrongs and injustices, to amplify others’ good ideas, and to comment on the latest tit and tattle. To be honest, most of this really doesn’t make a great deal of difference in the overall scheme of things – but the subject of this week’s post does.

Audience measurement is one of those topics that creates a great deal of heat and light amongst a specialist subset of the industry. Audience researchers toil away, mainly un-noticed by the rest and yet what they do is essential to the whole media ecosystem.

Most of us on the periphery of the subject would agree with two core principles.

It’s important to measure audiences.

It’s important to do it properly.

‘Properly’ includes remaining objective, and producing data that is acceptable to users, is verifiable and is accessible.

It seems obvious for in-sector competitors to collaborate. So, in the case of TV the major broadcasters come together in BARB, to the benefit of all.

But we are now in a world where the key players in what is now video include but extend way beyond traditional broadcasters. And so far, many of these major players haven’t felt the need to collaborate.

We’re coming out of the monochrome, silo-ed world within which each medium is measured separately, to a technicolour world of integrated communication working across multiple channels.

Audience measurement needs to keep pace, or more accurately to catch up – hence the flurry of activity around cross-media measurement.

The problem is that this creates an obvious funding challenge.

Within siloes, it’s natural for the medium to fund research into its audience.

This research is primarily about currencies – and thus, as the name suggests about buying and selling.

Providing data for planning purposes has largely been outside the purview of the audience measurement systems. When the media business was all about buying and selling that was good enough.

Trading and currencies remain important, of course but there is a gap when it comes to deciding between as opposed to within channels.

For over 50 years that gap has been manfully filled by the TGI – but even TGI media data has been weighted to the currencies.

There’s a need to move forward, to reflect today’s multi-comms world.

The obvious group to fund this advance are those who will benefit from the output – and that means the advertiser.

But who? Which advertiser(s)?

At the asi event earlier this month, Sarah Mansfield from Unilever was clear, or clear-ish: “We are very much willing to lead from the front in terms of governance and funding and be actively involved going forward.”

I wouldn’t bank that quite yet.

Sarah didn’t actually commit to funding anything. Indeed, when asked a more specific question on funding from Kantar’s Margo Swadley she ducked it and passed it along to ISBA’s Richard Halton who was equally vague on any specifics.

This is in no way unexpected. I would be surprised (delighted, but surprised) if the funding conversation with individual advertisers has moved beyond the conceptual.

I’ve argued (here and on stage at last year’s asi) for a levy on adspend to fund cross-media audience research.

That way the largest advertisers pay the most, but everyone contributes. Going cap in hand to the usual suspects, the UL’s, the Coca-Cola’s, the P&G’s is unreasonable. After all why should they shoulder the total burden to deliver something that will hopefully become embedded in how the whole industry works?

I don’t buy the argument that says that this somehow denudes the agencies of the competitive edge gained by an investment in proprietary research and tools. They can still do what they do – but with the added benefit of another base source.

The levy would pay for setting up and running the base cross-media measurement system. It would cover the cost of a small team at the advertiser trade body, along with whatever original work was decided upon and maybe a small amount of ongoing R&D into new techniques and approaches (the measurement of attention might be one such).

A levy would place advertisers at the heart of moving audience measurement into the new integrated comms age.

It would help bring advertising and other communication methods together through a planning methodology that ultimately would save money by reducing duplication and discouraging inconsistencies.

Advertisers have long called for such an approach – this would be a giant step towards facilitating it.

For all, funded by all.

  1. Hi Brian. Great wisdom as ever. The stone on a levy approach is being lifted at JICMAIL in 2021, which is implementing a levy on relevant mail products from April. Do reach out for more…

  2. Thanks Mark, I would love to know more. Can we have a chat early next week sometime? Email is Hope to talk soon! B

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