An article in today’s Wall Street Journal made me very happy, both as a former media planner and current search engine marketing consultant. TV measurement is finally moving towards leaving the dark ages of Nielsen’s audience panel and its on the verge of entering the age of enlightenment. This is a step in the right direction where offline media is as accountable and transparent as online media. A quote by Tracey Scheppach at Starcom Worldwide says it best, “We shouldn’t continue to justify doing $70 billion of business off of 12,000 homes when the data exist. So let’s explore it.”
TNS Media Research has partnered with DirecTV in order to measure the TV viewing habits of 100,000 households, which is more than 7 times larger than Nielsen’s 14,000 household panel. This leads to more stable results and increased precision when it comes to measuring smaller channels.
All of this is made possible because of the set-top box that DirecTV users have in their house. Once subscribers have opted in to the panel, the box reports on their second-by-second viewing habits and demographics. Similar to most online tracking cookies, all personally identifiable information is removed and only the usage and demographic data are shared with advertisers and media buying agencies.
There are some potential kinks in TNS’ plans though. For example, Nielsen’s system requires viewers to regularly confirm that they are still watching TV and haven’t left it on in the background. TNS doesn’t offer that yet, and thus may overstate some metrics such as time spent watching a particular program or channel.
What does this mean for online marketers and publishers? Well, it could show that TV viewers are even less engaged with the medium than previously thought, which would be even more bad news for the ad-supported networks and more money flowing to channels that demonstrate quantifiable results, i.e. online. Or, it could bolster the ratings of some programs or networks which might lead to a slow-down in the amount of marketing dollars that are transitioning from offline to online channels. Either way, more data tends to open up markets, level playing fields and create competition and innovation. This will lead to even more insistence from advertisers that their marketing efforts are accountable and productive.
Personally, I think both data sets will co-exist for quite some time before one is chosen (or unseated) as the industry standard. By that time, every set-top box company (Tivo, Comcast, AT&T, DISH, etc) will be trying to break into the lucrative and influential data and measurement market. Increased competition is a good thing, especially because the Nielsen data that haven’t upgraded their tracking methodologies fast enough to keep up with the pace of technology.