Frankenmetrics Lives! Television Networks Confront Digital Upheaval

frankenmetricsIn 2008, NBC Universal released a system called TAMI – the Total Audience Measurement Index. Despite the promise of its name, it did not revolutionize TV measurement. In fact, it wasn’t even a system.

“It was a spreadsheet that someone updated manually,” recalled Julie DeTraglia, the network’s SVP of digital research, during a Thursday panel at the Adobe Summit. TAMI has since evolved with the advancement of digital metrics. NBC Universal gets data from sources like Hulu, Nielsen, Adobe and all of its local television stations.

“It’s become more Frankenstein-like,” DeTraglia said.

And it’s still largely a manual system. Which is a problem, considering DeTraglia oversees digital ad sales and measurement across NBC Universal’s enormous portfolio (including, but not limited to, NBC Entertainment, NBC News, NBC Sports, CNBC and MSNBC). And these properties, which exist in broadcast and online, have different measurement systems.


So coming up with anything remotely resembling “total audience” requires stacking different metrics and converting them so they’re consistent.

“We used to have one video CMS,” DeTraglia said. “That got splintered and fractured along the way, and the job now is to put it all back together.”

DeTraglia’s fellow panelists, including David Coletti (ESPN’s VP of digital research and analytics) and Julie Piepenkotter (FX Network’s EVP of research) echoed these sentiments.

At FX, Piepenkotter assembles her total audience measurements piecemeal.

“We take the linear TV audience, add the encores to it, add the VoD [Video on Demand] day one through three, then take VoD days four-plus, then digital across FXNOW, FX.com and Hulu, if we have that window,” she said. “And we basically add them all up. It is cumbersome, but it’s really important too to give our executives a sense of what real consumption is.”

Coletti said ESPN has been working through the issue of measuring cross-platform audiences for more than a decade. In 2012, the Disney-owned sports network announced Project Blueprint in collaboration with comScore, supposedly the “the first-ever five-platform measurement initiative.”

And yet ESPN, like its peers, still performs “a lot of Frankenmetric reporting,” stacking online viewership measurements on top of broadcast measurements. This workaround is fine for ESPN, because its content is mostly broadcast or streamed live, enabling the sports network to compile metrics by the next day. It’s not as ideal for FX, whose scripted shows aren’t always viewed when they debut, and whose VoD channels add a long tail of viewers catching up well after the premiere episode debuts. This means it takes longer for FX to compile so-called total audience.

But for both ESPN and FX, stacking measurements from different channels is a big problem when there’s no consistency between them.

“The main issue is that TV is about average audience and digital is about views – and you have to alter one or the other to have it make sense together,” DeTraglia said. NBC Universal consequently finds itself converting measurements like ratings to reach or minutes viewed.

“We need to have a conversation about what counts for a rating,” Coletti added. “Is the [online video] ad load the same as it is in linear television? In our case, it’s not.”

Like the other panelists, Coletti said there needs to be two separate measurements: one for video content, and one specifically for advertisers.

“This helps our advertising partners because [they can] track across screen,” he explained. After all, even if an online episode aired three years ago, the ad served alongside it is fresh – and measurements need to account for that somehow.

Fellow panelist Kelly Abcarian, SVP of product architecture at Nielsen, said the measurement firm continues to work on solving this issue via its Total Audience product, which it hopes to combine with its cross-platform measurement tool powered by Adobe. The goal is to give clients the flexibility to measure ads and content separately. (The panelists seemed excited by this initiative, though it’s not clear whether the converged product at this time is aspirational or operational.)

In the end, the networks want to bridge the “tremendous gap between what media companies see and what advertisers and agencies see between television and digital measurement,” Coletti said.

“If you’re at an agency and subscribe to a full suite of Nielsen TV measurement, you see every network that’s measured on a minute by minute basis, completely transparent, and that’s how you build your RFPs,” he explained. But the digital world is not so generous. Even though broadcasters have second-by-second insight into how digital video content is consumed, those analytics – for reasons unstated – aren’t given to advertisers.

Coletti acknowledged this problem: “We need to close that gap so people can better plan their media.”

It’s an ideal that DeTraglia hopes to achieve: the ability to simply run a report that tells her which episodes of a show were viewed, where they were viewed, “with consistent metrics on a program and commercial basis.”

Yet closing the gap between digital and linear TV measurement assumes another logistical issue has been solved: the basic problem of installing measurement tags on online properties.

“Before we even get to piecing together the data sets, we have to ease the burden of measurement implementation across platforms,” Coletti said. The process of inserting tags onto a page sounds easy – Just get IT to slap in some JavaScript! – and yet “it takes weeks of nightmarish pain to implement and maintain them.”

But don’t tell the networks they aren’t trying. FX’s Piepenkotter bristles when she hears claims that they’re not measuring digital video.

“It is being measured,” she said. “Just not holistically, elegantly or uniformly. But it is. … [And] the measurements will only get better. It’s going to help the business dramatically in terms of showing the power of this content we all love so much.”

 

 

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