Nielsen recently expanded its partnership with consumer data specialist Experian to cover the former's Online Campaign Ratings with additional layers of demographic data. The new data represents progress, but some publishers are concerned.
Media sellers fault both Nielsen and its audience measurement rival comScore, with its validated Campaign Ratings (vCE), for not keeping up with data-management providers like BlueKai and eXelate on providing more instantaneous audience analysis. Instead, advances focus on measuring broad demographic audience characteristics -- after media has run.
Some display ad sellers say this leaves them vulnerable if a campaign is deemed not to have reached the target audience.
Megan Clarken, EVP and global product leader for Nielsen, argued Experian's data will help online publishers with measurements that more closely match TV, something advertisers want.
"OCR provides publishers with the data they need to prove differentiation of their audience," Clarken said. "Offering guarantees allows publishers to achieve premium CPMs for hard-to-reach audiences. Age and gender are the necessary building blocks for understanding audience delivery for any campaign. Bringing additional segments like household income into the mix offers buyers and sellers more rich data points to analyze effectiveness."
The problem, according to publishers who hear this, is that while the measurement firms have made headway in tying Gross Ratings Points, the standard for TV audience measurement, to online media, they haven't done enough to make the information actionable in real time. The problem is acute because advertisers and media agencies are buying guaranteed inventory based OCR and vCE data. Since these measurements look backward by two days or more, publishers feel insecure about selling these guarantees because they can't adjust their placements readily enough.
"We need a real-time GRP and while Nielsen has been a bit more ahead of comScore in this aspect, no one has created a system to help publishers optimize in real-time or meaningful short time," said one publishing exec who works with both companies. "The industry wants 100% guaranteed GRPs. But without giving publishers tools to reduce the 50% waste that is not hitting the target, [the measurement tools] become dangerous to the ecosystem. It pushes CPMs down to a point that publishers cannot afford."
The publisher continued, "If you buy BlueKai and eXelate, you have zero waste. You don't run an ad against someone who is not in your audience target. That's where the friction is and we're going to be continuing to deal with this for the next two to three years."
From Nielsen's point of view, Clarken said the Experian partnership will help publishers do better than they have previously by providing OCR clients additional demographic information about who saw an advertising campaign. This includes income range, language spoken, presence of children in the household and other offline segments defined by Nielsen that will allow publishers to better calculate the effectiveness of their campaigns. The next goal is to bring this additional demographic information to Nielsen Cross-Platform Campaign Ratings and Nielsen Digital Program Ratings.
"You want the offline and online ecosystems to merge so we won't have this artificial separation of TV dollars and digital dollars," said Ran Harnevo, president of AOL Video. "You can find yourself watching a connected TV watching two different streams in the same minute; both are sold differently. It doesn't make sense. So [the work with Experian] represents a good, pragmatic move on the part of Nielsen. They're also extending OCR to mobile, which is critical. The main problem still left to deal with is that there is friction in the ad products. But that's expected since this is the early stage of the online/offline convergence process."
To some publishing execs, the battle to improve GRPs for an era of audience fragmentation is a losing one. Nielsen is trapped by history, said Jon Mandel, CEO of analytics firm PrecisionDemand and former former CEO of the defunct NielsenConnect unit.
"Nielsen is fighting the last war," Mandel said. " By definition, this data does not help anyone with the future; it is not actionable. Everybody else in the industry is dealing with predictive analysis. At the end of the day, Nielsen data, which is still largely based on panels, is not rich or segmented enough to make quick decisions, which is what is needed especially when it comes to digital."