Total audience measurement — a term that comprises viewing for TVs, tablets, PCs and phones — is finally making its debut in the next several months, with offerings from both Nielsen and the newly combined comScore-Rentrak aimed at tracking viewership across multiple devices and platforms.
While the new measurement products are expected to provide some much-needed insight into changing viewing habits, they also raise a deeper question. As viewers sit in the family room with their big-screen TVs blazing, tapping text messages on their phones and checking websites and social-media platforms on their laptops and tablets, what attracts their attention most?
The TV industry is awash in viewing data at the moment, but the real challenge for programmers — and advertisers — is to find the right data to mine from viewers.
Total audience measurement, once just a pipe dream for many advertisers and networks, is, to an extent, already here. Nielsen made its Total Audience Measurement product available to select clients in a beta-testing mode earlier this year, and is expected to make it widely available by late Q2 or early Q3.
Using a mixture of panel data, set-top and online information, Nielsen’s TAM product is expected to become a widely accepted extension of its TV ratings, the de facto currency of the TV industry. The new product will offer additional insight into what has been an increasingly fragmented TV audience, tracking viewership across devices and platforms and providing advertisers, media buyers and networks with comparable data on digital, traditional TV and time-shifted TV, as well as the ability to measure ads separately from content.
ComScore, which completed its merger with set-top-box data pioneer Rentrak in January, is expected to launch its total audience product — the Total Home Panel — by the third quarter. Total Home Panel will measure the full range of connected devices: TVs, smartphones, tablets, game consoles and OTT devices, the company said.
The Total Home Panel already is in the testing phase and measuring 4,000 active devices, with 60,000 expected by summer and 300,000 by the end of the year. ComScore, a much-smaller rival to Nielsen, began sending the first batch of its cross-platform ratings data — about 15 months’ worth of information — to clients last week.
Nielsen president of global products Megan Clarken has said her company’s total audience product is a “framework,” adding the data could lead to a rethinking of the way ads are bought or sold.
One possible change Total Audience could bring, she said at the Multichannel News/B&C Advanced Advertising and Audience Measurement Summit earlier this month, could be expanding the time frame over which ads are measured from seven days to several weeks.
“Once they see that data, that on the sixth week of a dramatic series my audience has grown 38% outside that seven-day window … we’ll be able to have a different set of conversations.”
But as technology continues to move forward, accommodating for time-shifted viewing on a DVR is just the tip of the iceberg. Viewers aren’t just watching at different times, they’re watching different content on multiple devices, sometimes simultaneously. With all of those added distractions, finding a way to keep a viewer’s attention, or diverting it from something else, has become increasingly important.
While simultaneous viewing sessions can be short, they can also present opportunities to drive viewers to other sites or programs, provide information, promote brand awareness or just offer a quick commercial burst. And as the number of devices proliferate, finding out how to draw and sometimes divert a viewer’s attention become increasingly important.
“If you check on your router at home to check on the number of devices that are connected, it’s crazy,” comScore CEO Serge Matta said. “You don’t realize how quickly those things add up: your smart TVs, Xbox game consoles, Apple TV, smartphones, PCs, tablets, Nests, smart locks. But there is also a lot of noise.
“It’s not simply putting in the hardware, getting the data and you’re good to go,” he added. “There is a lot of edit rules, a lot of cleanup and QA [quality assurance] you have to do.”
ComScore compiles that device data on a panel basis. Participants, who are incented by com- Score, opt in to be measured.
With the Total Home Panel, comScore can gather information on up to 20 devices off a single home router, Matta said. While it is fairly easy to determine which household members are using specific devices, the “noise” enters the data set when a neighbor comes over and accesses the home WiFi for a few hours during a visit.
“The fact that we know who’s in the household and what devices they are watching, we have the ability to see the complete viewing picture of everyone at scale,” Matta said. “This concurrent viewing aspect is really important, and it only becomes more of an issue [as] more devices and … more platforms [are used] over time. That number is only going one way — it’s going up.”
Once simultaneous usage is determined, attentiveness can be measured in terms of time spent with the content or ads on each device, Nielsen senior vice president product leadership Kelly Abcarian said. “[That is] a critical metric that we’ve standardized through the delivery of our Total Audience systems,” she added. “It’s important that a media owner or advertiser know how many people were engaged with the deeper content, but also how much engagement they have and for how long.”
That attentiveness data probably will be more of a customized product, Matta said, but it will be a critical tool for some clients to have in their arsenal.
“It’s a derived methodology, but it’s extremely important for advertisers,” he said. “Are they watching an ad on TV, or are they watching on their tablet? The fact that we know it’s the same person within the same household, who is in the household, and what devices they are watching, we have the ability see the complete picture of everyone at scale.”
With Total Audience not quite out of the blocks yet, adjustments and fi ne-tuning are sure to come. “The problem is, we need to get better data to drive these strategies,” ESPN senior vice president of global research and analytics Artie Bulgrin said. “We know how many people are on our digital platform at any given time, and the same for TV. The problem is we don’t know where they are.”
SEEKING BETTER DATA
ESPN is working with comScore and Nielsen on cross-platform data, Bulgrin said. “The data are getting better, but it’s hardly enough to make a big strategic decision. However, at ESPN, we’re assuming that wherever that person is, there is an opportunity to navigate them.
“Our multiplatform approach has been a big reason why we have been able to maintain audiences where audiences across most of multichannel are declining at a faster rate,” Bulgrin added.
ESPN has been at the forefront of driving the second screen, with continuous crawls during linear programs that tell viewers where they can get more information on stats and sports news and through apps like WatchESPN, and news alerts on social media and via email that drive viewers to the linear channel.
“All of that makes the overall TV experience stickier,” Bulgrin said.
The Council for Research Excellence, an independent, Nielsen-funded group of senior-level industry researchers representing cable and broadcast networks, advertisers and others, hopes to have even more detailed data from an upcoming biometric study that will be headed by Turner Broadcasting System chief research officer Howard Shimmel and Beth Rockwood, in conjunction with Nielsen.
That study will examine whether the proliferation of multiplatform devices could affect the future definition of viewing beyond the current “watching” and “listening.” It will also seek to identify how an expanded understanding of multiplatform device use in a household may increase opportunities for capturing exposure to content.
Multiscreen viewing has helped some traditional programmers because of the nature of devices other than the TV set, Telsey Advisory Group media analyst Tom Eagan said.
“The young people — millennials and younger — they don’t fast-forward [past commercials] because they’re on another device,” Eagan said. “So, the programmer doesn’t have to worry as much. From a programming perspective, they might prefer being on the second device, because at least they are looking up once in a while.”
Looking up from the second or third device is a critical piece of the puzzle and one that programmers and advertisers are struggling with as viewership continues to fragment.
Janet Gallent, senior vice president of NBC Consumer Insights and Innovation Research, oversaw a research project on second-screen engagement as part of her role within CRE’s Media Consumption & Engagement Committee. The CRE research found that audio cues and bright colors appear to be tools that can attract a younger viewer’s attention, Gallent said, something she called the “cocktail room effect.”
In general, even when a person is engaged in a deep conversation, they can have their attention diverted by something as simple as hearing their name mentioned across a crowded room, she explained.
“We’re constantly scanning for what is relevant to us,” Gallent said. “There are certain cues that people attend to. If you’re [watching] the TV screen and [you’re] on your smartphone checking your messages, the audio has the potential to get you back. It can signal to you, ‘This is something I should be paying attention to.’ ”
ESPN has been toying with the idea of creating what it calls a “cognitive bridge” in its own labs, Bulgrin said. “In other words, are there ways to navigate people to that second screen and then back to the first screen at appropriate times. Audio can be one component of that. But it’s very early days. A lot more work needs to be done.”
Part of that additional work will come from the upcoming CRE biometric study that will use physiological data from subjects like eye tracking and facial coding to gauge attention.
Bulgrin said biometrics are another key tool for ESPN and other researchers to gather more precise data. “A lot of this can’t be measured by simply asking people,” he said. “You’re relying on recall and rationalized response. A lot of times the body can tell you a lot more than the person can at a conscious level.”
In the meantime, Total Audience will continue to evolve as clients use the data and find new uses for it during the trial period before the wider launch in the fall. The potential is to change not only how clients purchase advertising and through which media, but also how they construct ads, Abcarian said.
“The insights are going to help the dynamics of the market to open up,” Abcarian said. “There is tremendous potential there. A major advertiser may choose to deliver a broad branding message across traditional TV, but there would be elements of that message that would be reinforced or reimagined across digital video.
“What Total Audience allows is the ability to understand that unduplicated reach of the audience exposure to that given advertiser’s message, even as it’s recreated or reimagined, which is a really powerful tool,” she said.