Goodbye Panels, Hello Households. The Future of TV Measurement is Here

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By Ted White, Senior Director – Currency Strategy & Methodology at Ampersand

When I began my career supporting TV ad sales with research and insights close to two decades ago, my first mentor in the industry asked me, “What do we sell?”  Considering the company was Ad Sales focused, the question seemed straight forward.  I ran through a gamut of answers I could give.  I tried to gauge his expectation.  I offered what I believed to be a thoughtful response.  Impressions was my first answer.  Wrong.  I tried again and again but all the answers I provided were deemed incorrect – spots, ads, airtime, commercials, eyeballs, consumers.  Wrong – all wrong.  The expected answer – “Audiences.”

The discussion – really a learning lesson – is as relevant today as it was illuminating then.  The world has changed immensely since that conversation 20 years ago. TV advertising has certainly changed as well-technologically, financially, operationally.  Yet, the mission, albeit a simple one, remains unchanged at its core – help connect a marketer’s message to their intended ‘audience.’

Fast-forward (not through the ads) to date.  Robust data insights, targeting precision and superior measurement have changed the dynamics to make advertising more accountable and more effective.  No longer does TV advertising only focus on mass reach, branding, and awareness, though it is still the leader in those areas, leaving more specific performance outcomes to digital channels.  Rather, TV is now meeting, and often surpassing these digital-inspired marketer’s needs.  Marketers can now direct their messages to more finely targeted audiences.  Worlds are converging – the reach of linear TV with the measurability of digital.  As audiences fragment across a vast landscape of content, devices, and screens, it is more important than ever to have a holistic way to measure the performance of ads across this fragmented landscape, regardless of how the content is delivered.

TV ads transacted on broad age and gender targets from panel-based ratings as the common currency will soon be in the rearview mirror.  The journey is well under way to evolve the measurement currency to meet the needs of marketers and publishers.  All eyes are on the road ahead.  It is time to stop being distracted with the shortcomings of the current measurement approaches, recognize that the loss of accreditation is a pivotal inflection point, and start to recognize the opportunity to utilize advanced data and analytics as transactional currency.  Measurement solutions have evolved beyond what the traditional providers in the marketplace have historically offered.  The industry is beginning to realize that a single measurement giant like Nielsen may not be the only option – two parties involved in a transaction may find multiple approaches to valuing a deal, such as viewed impressions, reach, optimization, or quite possibly behavioral outcomes.

Imagine the possibilities.  A dominant single measurement source quite possibly replaced by many.  GRPs replaced by Impressions.  Estimated measurement of age and gender targets replaced by performance-based metrics of highly defined audiences.  Pushing buttons based on meter prompts replaced by natural viewing behavior passively collected.  40,000 homes replaced by millions of households.

Scalable data was once only available in the digital space but now TV is catching up on these capabilities and companies like Ampersand are moving TV forward.  Ampersand reaches 80 million households and provides planning and measurement insights on 40 million households.  With a much more digital-centric approach, Ampersand makes it easy to plan, execute, and measure audience-based multi-screen TV campaigns at scale, reporting what tactics worked and what could be improved.  These insights allow marketers to reliably evaluate their return on ad spend by optimizing delivery to their audience or by connecting lower-funnel business outcomes to their TV schedules.

Understandably, there is a lot of institutional inertia when it comes to traditional measurement, but most agree that it cannot be the reason not to accelerate alternative solutions.  Neither can any notion of failure.  Let’s face it, the current measurement is failing and any movement to an alternative solution is success in of itself.  If we have learned anything from the pandemic, it is that we need to plan less and adapt more.  Even if panel-based approaches could be modernized, keep in mind that it was just a few years ago that paper diaries were still used as the primary mode to collect TV consumption across 140 TV markets, can it offer the precision at scale required for an audience-based approach?  Can it offer the scale, reliability, and accuracy demanded in the marketplace?

In addition to sound and transparent methodology, Ampersand believes that any credible measurement service must be reliable, stable, and able to capture TV consumption across all screens. This is even more important as we navigate the ‘audience-first’ world that marketers require.  There has never been a more appropriate time to digress from panel-based measurement and lean into deterministic data at scale, to evolve beyond age and gender and accelerate toward trading on audiences.  It is time to move TV forward!