egta Insights - Making Data Work for TV

The tables have been turned! Instead of me interviewing a media executive, egta's Matthew Carver interviewed me  as part of this fascinating and extensive whitepaper on Making Data Work for TV.

Here is my interview. Please check the link for the full report.

egta: To start with audience measurement, what do you see as the state of the industry at present? 

Charlene Weisler (CW): There are a number of challenges that need to be solved, and I think that there are a lot of efforts to that end. In my opinion, one of biggest challenges is coming up with a standardisable message for cross-platform measurement. That would be capturing usage across devices and across platforms in a way that the industry can use the data to ascertain actual deliveries and help content providers maximise their revenue by capturing every single bit of usage. And it’s easier said than done. Not just because we’ve yet to agree what the standard measurement might be, because there is a difference between digital and traditional television at this time. It’s also having to take into account print, radio, outdoor and so on. There are a number of components, a number of media points that touch the consumer every day. And its growing, its morphing, its evolving, and it becomes almost a moving target.

egta: Are we talking here about all touchpoints across all media, not just focussing on bringing traditional television together with video but rather the whole scope of how a marketer could reach a consumer?

CW: Absolutely. I know that we’re probably starting with the basics of television and video and digital, but there’s a lot more. There is a lot of fascinating and very usable data being collected beyond the home in digital outdoor, and if you were a CNBC or an ESPN, those collections of data would be very important for you. So, yes there are the basic, traditional media points, but then there are also the new technologies and digital place-based media, which should be brought in as far as possible into the standard measurement. 

egta: You have companies, such as Nielsen in the US, that measure TV viewing across the whole population and more recent solutions, for example collecting return-path data, that are very good at capturing particular types of viewers or ways of receiving TV with high granularity. Is it possible to move towards a hybrid model where you can extrapolate some of that rich data onto the wider population that’s not so well measured?

CW: You have the whole area of OTT; it’s not through the cable box but it’s fragmented to a certain degree because it’s being collected through different points. There’s a lot of extrapolation, you’ve mentioned Nielsen, which is panel-based, and they extrapolate off of a panel sample of viewers, people in homes. So, extrapolation has been part of the industry for its history for more than sixty years, and I think there will still be some of that. But I also think that with STB data and with other ways of collecting other big data sets that can be merged with TV usage data, we’ll have a larger base with which to make extrapolations.

egta: With the companies that are now entering the space, with comScore going into TV with the acquisition of Rentrack for example, do you think that there could be a fundamental change to the way television itself is bought and sold, or is it more an icing-on-the-cake type of evolution?

CW: I’m going to give my personal opinion on this. Age and gender is a proxy, and I think a lot of people would agree that not all woman aged 18-49 are alike. In fact, not all women aged 18 years old are alike. I think it’s actually based on lifestyle and a variety of other factors. The age and gender proxies that we currently use to post against media buys have always been an easy way to ascertain delivery and that the contract was delivered to the guarantee. Will we move away that? It would make sense that we should, because of the limitations of proxies, but I’m not sure we will do so fast enough! 

Everybody’s talking about segmentation, and it’s a terrific idea to have behavioural segments, so that the advertiser as well as the content provider understands who is really consuming. Maybe age and gender doesn’t matter if you have a certain product, you just want that brand’s aficionados, no matter how old they are, no matter what gender they are. That would work better for everybody, because viewers would receive content that really speaks to them, no matter what their age or gender. Advertisers would reach people who are truly enthusiastic about the product they are advertising, and content providers can provide the best in entertainment for that special interest group. 

It’s just very hard to standardise that, and I think if we want to try and maintain some kind of traditional standard metrics by which the industry is measured, it’s a pretty tall order to come up with a strict set of behavioural segments. If you look at one particular auto manufacturer, for example, different models will have different behavioural segments, so it’s not just at the individual advertiser level, but at the individual product level. 

egta: You mentioned that we probably won’t move fast enough, what would you say are the potential risks of not moving beyond proxies into audience segmentation and actually pushing that further forward?

CW: I would think the biggest risk is that you’re leaving money on the table and that you’re not maximising the benefits of your budget or your inventory.

If you look at the recent claims about the role of traditional television, it still commands the majority of viewership. Whether that will erode over time remains to be seen, but I think more in the short term the risk is just not maximising what you already have. And, of course, in not really being able to fine tune to a specific behavioural segment. In a way one might think that that might accelerate viewership to other platforms yet to be developed or in development now, because they will target more effectively.

egta: Would you say that the barriers we currently face are primarily technological limitations or legacy attitudes to doing business? 

CW: It’s a little bit of both, I think. It’s easy to stay within the traditional forms of measurement; your five-year plans are based on delivery of age and gender. And all of the systems that are being used by the agencies and the networks are built towards delivering along those age and gender targets. So, you have an immense job to transfer over in an automatic way to a new standard. It’s a bit of the traditional mindset and it’s also a bit of the technological, because you would have to modify the systems to take into account behavioural segments in a standardised manner. 

egta: I understand there are companies like Simulmedia that are focussed on finding the value in inventory that could otherwise we seen as undervalued or even worthless. Do you think that there is quite a rich mine to be tapped there, or does this approach have its limitations?
CW: I think it’s incredibly rich. Part of the challenge with proxy measurements, with age and gen
der, is when you’ve crossed that threshold from aged 49 to aged 50 you are suddenly not very valuable to advertisers. And in fact, if you read the results of studies, the wealth is being concentrated in the 50+ cohort. And just because you’ve turned 50 doesn’t mean you don’t want to buy a car or buy a house, a vacation home, or furnish it, or take a holiday. So, I think that there is a lot more value that is not being mined for advertisers, and for content providers, and it’s diminishing an audience that could actually prove to be very fertile in terms of variety of different purchasing behaviours.

It’s not just the audience that might be undervalued, but there might also be inventory that is undervalued. Maybe you should be buying in overnight, as opposed to prime time. So, I think that there is a lot of value in looking beyond and using the technology and the data sets that are becoming available to recognise value where we may not ascribe it right now.

egta: Are you seeing different types of skillsets coming into broadcasters and sales houses to be able to develop some of these new approaches?

CW: I have always believed that there is an advantage in being creative, strategic and innovative, I would like to think more people are being hired with those skill sets. But I also think that they are very hard skill sets to find and to develop. I believe that the best media companies are those that encourage innovation and strategic thinking and will embrace challenges in order to overcome them. There are companies that are very traditional, and then there are those that want to expand beyond. And I think that those who hire to expand beyond the traditional will be the ones that will be around in the future and thrive.

egta: It's sometimes said that the US might be more advanced in the way they are able to collect and use data; what advice would you give to European broadcasters order to be able to maximise the opportunities of data in the next five to ten years?

CW: It's interesting you should talk about US vs. Europe. I think that Europe has something I wish we had in the United States, which would be a JIC to help set policy. It’s something that I think the time has come in the US, so that we can all be heard at the same time and share ideas and solutions, and I think that’s where Europe might have an advantage over the US. And my advice would be to work with the JIC that you have and start to develop protocols based on leanings internationally, and the data that you have on hand where you are.

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