While the Writers Guild of America strike that began on May 2 is a headline-generating development likely to disrupt programmers' dealmaking with advertisers, the changing measurement landscape is another pressing topic at this year’s upfronts, one with the potential to reverberate across the industry and reset the way business is done for the entire premium video and television ecosystem.
What measurement should look like for the multibillion dollar industry was the focus at a several recent events and will likely stay in the crosshairs in the weeks and months ahead as stakeholders push to change a status quo that has been dominated by Nielsen for years. Some executives have not been reserved about what a new measurement paradigm means for the ad industry.
"Make no mistake, this is going to be a massive change and a reset to all the business models that have, quite honestly, been forced fit to legacy measurement for way too long," said Kelly Abcarian, executive vice president for measurement and impact at NBCUniversal, at a recent Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) conference. "The future is not going to fit in the business models of the past."
Progress and plans from the JIC
ARF's AudiencexScience event gave Abcarian and her peers a chance to showcase and stump for the recently formed Joint Industry Committee (JIC), which on April 27 hosted a measurement summit that represented its first upfront presentation. Launched in January, the JIC is working to enable multiple currencies and establish cross-platform measurement solutions for streaming video in time for next year's upfront presentations.
Member organizations span big-name programmers and agencies as well as advanced advertising company OpenAP and the Video Advertising Bureau. At the JIC upfront, OpenAP CMO Brittany Slattery attempted to "mythbust" the idea that the committee is only sell-side, insisting it also encompasses media buyers.
"We would not be here without the support of our agency partners, who have helped us roll up their sleeves — and probably have gotten way too many emails from me over the past four months — to really define what this future looks like together,” Slattery said.
Agencies have embraced the JIC — despite any reservations or mixed feelings about definitions of video or other issues — due to an inability to tell clients a unified story about ad frequency, brand client concerns about measurement standards and the need to work with industry partners to find a way forward, according to Bharad Ramesh, executive director of research and investment analytics for GroupM.
"If I'm outside the tent, I have no idea what's going on inside, let alone the ability to influence it," Ramesh explained at the ARF event.
“Consortiums are notoriously slow, and the fact that we’ve done as much as we’ve done in four months is wild.”
Senior vice president of data, analytics and advanced advertising, TelevisaUnivision
While the JIC has quickly grown its ranks, several major players have not signed on. Ramesh said that adding YouTube, Netflix and Disney to the JIC in the next 12 to 18 months would make him "fairly happy." But even without several dominant streaming video companies, the JIC is making impressive progress — and quickly — according to several speakers.
"There's still plenty more to accomplish, but I'm super excited about I think how quickly we're moving," said Dan Aversano, senior vice president of data, analytics and advanced advertising at TelevisaUnivision, at the ARF event, pushing back against critics who claim the JIC has moved at a "breakneck" pace. "Consortiums are notoriously slow, and the fact that we've done as much as we've done in four months is wild."
The group’s work so far includes drafting initial requirements for premium video cross-platform currencies that were announced in March. Over the next two months, the JIC plans to define how programmers will enable data for buyers and measurement companies, with use cases expected to be unveiled at Cannes Lions in June. After measurement companies are engaged on data, the JIC will do a beta release of its streaming data service in Q1 2024 that is a key part of the JIC's promise to advertisers.
"The marketers … they want the data," said Jackson Bazley, executive vice president of the ANA, at the ARF event. "It very simply comes down to measure it all, put the attributes in place and let us have the data so we can evaluate campaigns, we can evaluate performance and we make decisions."
Elephant in the room
Despite buy-in from several programmers, agency holding companies, measurement firms and other industry organizations, one major player is, not surprisingly, absent from the JIC: Nielsen, the embattled legacy measurement company that the group's members are, by various degrees, trying to bypass with alternative currency development.
Nielsen's many legal, operational and scientific reasons for declining to participate in the JIC were outlined in a letter dated April 21 and sent by Karthik Rao, Nielsen's CEO for global audience measurement, to OpenAP CEO David Levy and the JIC. These issues include the JIC's preference for big data over panel data, the definition of "premium quality," the absence of key streaming platforms and other anti-competition and intellectual property issues.
Rao also noted a "lack of clarity" on the need for accreditation and not just certification from the industry watchdog the Media Rating Council (MRC). The MRC is a neutral, not-for-profit organization, stressed George Ivie, the organization’s CEO and executive director, at the ARF event.
"We're not actively supporting multi-currency as an environment, but we are actively seeking to audit and validate products that might participate in a multi-currency environment in a neutral manner," Ivie said.
For their part, JIC members poured water on Nielsen's claims about MRC accreditation. Nielsen just last month received reaccreditation for its National TV Audience Measurement service after losing the organization's seal of approval in September 2021 for undercounting TV viewership. Nielsen this month acknowledged similar problems that affected its measurement of the Super Bowl, again drawing attention to the miscounting issue. Additionally, several of its products, including Nielsen One ads and its panel-plus-big data integration, do not have accreditation. For some panelists, Nielsen seems to be conflating the functions of the JIC and the MRC.
"To say that they want JIC certification to require MRC accreditation, in my mind, is sort of weaponizing the MRC — there's no other way to look at it," said John Halley, president of Paramount Advertising, at the JIC event.
OpenAP CEO David Levy was "disappointed" by the Nielsen letter and noted that the JIC won't weigh its requirements in a way that benefits only one participant (e.g. putting an emphasis on Nielsen's long-utilized panel data over big data from other sources).
"Anytime you have an opportunity to lean in and listen to your client's needs, you should really take that opportunity," Levy said of Nielsen's decision not to participate. "We hope Nielson will continue to engage; we're going to keep trying to get them at the table."
“We cannot operate as an industry moving and transacting billions of dollars in this way any longer.”
Executive vice president for measurement and impact, NBCUniversal
At the table or not, Nielsen isn't going anywhere, for now at least. Even programmers that have opened their doors to alternative measurement firms will still be transacting with Nielsen as they look to meet the needs of advertisers and their agencies.
"We're open for business in this upfront on both VideoAmp and Comscore," said Jon Steinlauf, chief U.S. advertising sales officer at Warner Bros. Discovery, at the JIC event. "Not to say we're not open for business on Nielsen, but we have agencies that are asking to negotiate this upfront on big data, so we would like to take them up on it."
Questions about the size, stability and median age of the panel data favored by Nielsen were raised by Steinlauf, who stressed the need for innovation, better measurement and a stable sample base in measurement. But he also entreated the industry to avoid "dance partner syndrome," where each player dances with the one that brought them.
"We should go for the best alternatives we have, including Nielsen. If Nielsen is the best alternative, let's give Nielsen some of the business," he said. "As a collective, we've got to think about who's doing the best work out there and support the best work."
The JIC is ready to continue working, with or (more likely) without Nielsen's participation, to solve for true cross-platform measurement. At the JIC event, NBCU's Abcarian noted double- and triple-digit deficiencies in CTV datasets that could make the fast-growing channel a house of cards where programmer, advertiser and consumer needs are misaligned and unmet.
"It's going to destroy the value of what the premium video marketplace deserves," Abcarian said. "We cannot operate as an industry moving and transacting billions of dollars in this way any longer."
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakingly described OpenAP as a nonprofit organization.