Nielsen May Measure Ad Engagement

Aug 8, 2005  •  Post A Comment

With advertisers looking for audience measurements that go beyond a simple accounting of who’s watching, Nielsen Media Research is looking for ways to get into the new business of determining viewer engagement.

“It’s absolutely huge,” Jack Loftus, senior VP of communications for Nielsen Media Research, told TelevisionWeek last week, referring to the idea of engagement as a way of calculating ad effectiveness. “[Gross ratings points] will never go away, but this other point could be quite lucrative.”

While Nielsen hasn’t done much in this area so far, “We think we have a unique advantage in getting this information because we already have a panel in place,” Mr. Loftus said.

The idea Nielsen’s researchers are kicking around is to use members of its National People Meter sample after they are rotated out of the panel following their two-year hitch, he said. While their viewing would not be included when calculating ratings, the meters would stay in their homes for another month or two and they would be asked additional questions about the shows and commercials they’re viewing.

“You could do all sort of things. It could be more interactive. You could ask them more questions,” Mr. Loftus said.

Mr. Loftus said Nielsen has not yet had meetings with advertisers about the proposal. Nor has it done a cost analysis, but he said using an existing panel of households for this research had to be cheaper than putting together a separate, statistically representative sample.

Last month an initiative was formed by the Advertising Research Foundation, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers that will encourage industrywide adoption of consumer engagement as a media measurement.

Defining a Metric

As part of the initiative started by the ARF, Four A’s and ANA, a newly formed committee has been charged with defining engagement as a metric. The committee also plans to propose a large-scale industry research effort to validate engagement as a planning, tracking and return-on-media-investment metric to complement exposure and frequency.

The group plans to unveil the results of some of its research on engagement during Advertising Week in September.

William Cook, senior VP of research and standards for the ARF, said he expects Nielsen to make a run at the engagement measurement business. He acknowledged that following its difficulties with the rollout of Local People Meters, Nielsen faces added cynicism from research executives. But he thinks Nielsen has made changes that could produce “not just better numbers but better relationships with their clients at large.”

Kate Sirkin, executive VP of Starcom MediaVest Group, which has done ad deals based on engagement, said that once research companies are invited to join the process, “Everyone will be invited to present what they know and any ideas they’ve got.”

Ms. Sirkin, a member of the initiative task force, said Starcom has had some private talks about the idea of Nielsen recontacting its sample homes. “They’re thinking about it, but no one’s put forward any proposal yet,” she said.

Mr. Cook said he likes the idea of getting more information from Nielsen’s sample homes. “It’s a part of how they’re going to have to adapt to this heightened scrutiny … They’re going to have to understand better the households that they select to put meters in,” he said. “I think they can come up with some richer, deeper understanding about what the meter is measuring and how that relates to various other behaviors that can help the broadcasters and cable and others better represent what the numbers mean and what the advantages are for their programming versus others.”

Engagement is the latest buzzword among advertisers looking to quantify the return on their investment in advertising. During the recent upfront some networks, including Court TV and The Weather Channel, reached deals with Starcom and Carat, respectively, that guarantee that in addition to reaching a certain number of viewers, their advertising will achieve a certain level of viewer engagement as well.

Right now each buyer and each network has different-and proprietary-ways to attempt to calculate engagement. While some in the industry believe that what constitutes engagement might vary from industry to industry, others would prefer to see some form of uniform measure emerge.

At an industry conference last month, Ted McConnell, manager of information technology research at Procter & Gamble, said that even with all its resources, measuring engagement across all media was too big a job for any one company. “The industry needs to band together,” he said.