By Wayne Friedman
Special to TelevisionWeek
In the next several months, television research and media agency executives will make key decisions about the usefulness of a number of new research services, from new marketing tools that tie product purchase to media usage to traditional TV viewing measurement systems that have been modified.
For instance, in January, the measurement of digital video recorder viewing will be rolled into Nielsen’s regular People Meter data. Additionally, research tools such as Project Apollo that tie product sales to TV viewing and other media, is undergoing a test run. Researchers are now analyzing video-on-demand viewership, and minute-by-minute ratings are helping marketers figure out exactly how well commercials are working.
Why are there so many pressing research issues?
“You have consumers using different forms of media and all this leads to greater uncertainty,” said Bruce Goerlich, executive VP and director of strategic resources at Zenith Media Services. “You want to reduce risk.”
“There is a lot going on,” said Kate Serkin, senior VP and global research director for Starcom Media Worldwide. “The price of advertising is going up and consumer behavior is changing. We have new opportunities.”
The underlying message is this: Marketers need more than traditional TV viewership ratings to grow their businesses. Advertisers now want return-on-investment research tools, so-called engagement measurements and single-source research services that take into account different media at the same time.
“TV has the most to lose because it has the most,” said Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director for Horizon Media, New York. TV generally pulls in about $50 billion in advertising revenue per year, Mr. Adgate said.
Competitive pressure is being placed on traditional media research tools by new technologies that carry content-the iPod and other portable entertainment devices, mobile phones, VOD and new Internet tools-and by branded entertainment, which employs marketing messages in a different way than the traditional commercial spot.
“There’s a lot of new businesses, and a lot of critical tools,” Horizon’s Mr. Adgate said. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s under the hood. Some tools are really good; others are just for PR.” For example, Mr. Adgate said, new research tools-some good, some bad-claim they can predict how upcoming TV shows will perform, all from analyzing Internet buzz data.
New ways of distributing content always seem to come with a promise of better accountability, but results have been somewhat less than promised. For instance, the Internet offers great total usage data, but it is sketchy on identifying specific users.
For their part, cable operators have promised better data from set-top boxes. The main objective is determining VOD data that TV and media agency researchers are now getting. But set-top box data is running into the same problems as the Internet: offering raw data without context and without knowledge of who the users are.
In the face of more uncertainty, marketers want to increase accountability. That’s the goal of Project Apollo, a new research system that involves 5,000 to 6,000 panel members who record their purchases using a home scanner. A test of Project Apollo begins in a few weeks.
The aim of Project Apollo is to meld product purchasing with media usage. The Apollo panel members are a subset of the 30,000 people who participate in Nielsen’s HomeScan system.
In addition to the scanners, Project Apollo participants use Arbitron’s portable people meter, a beeper-like device that goes everywhere with users.
Go and buy Ritz crackers and then watch “Desperate Housewives.” Listen to Rush Limbaugh on the radio after buying some Slim-Jims. That’s the kind of cool single-source data tool capability marketers have been eagerly awaiting for years.
So far, no TV or radio companies have signed on for the full Apollo system, which is a pricey $350,000. Still, many TV and radio companies are participating in the upcoming test.
Network research executives would like to see other big-ticket marketers, such as automobile or mobile phone companies, sign up for Apollo before they make that commitment. There are even plans for Apollo to include magazine and newspaper media in its research.
Critics say Apollo panel members have a lot of responsibility-perhaps too much. Apollo panelists not only must wear a portable people meter device, they also must scan products on a home scanner immediately upon returning home after making purchases. Tim Brooks, executive VP of research for Lifetime, said that’s a lot of work for people to do, and thus the procedure has high potential for error.
Zenith’s Mr. Goerlich said Apollo supporters don’t claim Apollo is more accurate in measuring media usage.
“If you talk about Project Apollo, it’s a measurement tool tied back to ROI,” he said. “They are not seeing it as a currency to buy and sell television. You don’t need to be concerned about [gross ratings points], it’s about sales.”
If that weren’t complicated enough, Nielsen and Arbitron are offering a scaled-down “fusion” version of Apollo that melds the two existing panels-the HomeScan panel and the passive people meter sample-to yield, in theory, some of the same results that the full-scale service would produce.
While researchers will focus a keen eye on Project Apollo, they will also be observing DVR audience measurement data that will be included in Nielsen’s national People Meter sample starting in January. Nielsen will release viewership data in three streams: “live” show ratings, “live plus same day” viewing of shows that have been time-shifted by DVR, or “live plus seven days” viewing of time-shifted programs.
New Local People Meter data from a handful of markets is already showing numbers about one-tenth of a rating point higher in DVR homes than in homes without DVRs. The downside for marketers is the widely reported fact that DVR homes skip 75 percent of the TV commercials.
TV and media agency researchers expect the same trends to be repeated when the broader national sample starts up. Considering that 8 percent of U.S. TV households have DVRs, analysts figure a tenth of a rating point change will be the result. Another wrinkle: DVR homes are typically heavier TV users.
DVR data is expected to make drastic changes in next year’s upfront market, but few researchers agree on specifics. No one has yet figured out which ratings will be used in negotiations-live show, live plus same day or live plus seven days. Live viewing data will no doubt provide the lowest viewing number of the three streams of information. The live plus seven days will no doubt produce the highest numbers.
“Now you are going to have different currencies,” said Jim Kite, executive VP and director of research insight and accountability of MediaVest Worldwide. “Agencies will no doubt want to negotiate from live numbers; networks will want to use live plus seven days data.”
Other measuring tools that might be included in next year’s upfront process are engagement measurement and minute-by-minute ratings.
During the last upfront sales period some agencies and networks worked engagement factors into their deals. Engagement is about identifying and guaranteeing loyal and consistent viewers of specific shows. Starcom did deals with Court TV that included engagement language, as did MediaVest with The Weather Channel. More are expected during the next upfront.
Advertisers and networks now have useful software tools to analyze minute-by-minute ratings-data that has been hitting their desks in recent weeks. Minute-by-minute ratings give actual commercial ratings, not just those of TV programs.
All of this means many decisions must be made in the coming months about what to use and what to avoid.
“The damage is that you have too many thin
gs going on at once and not enough industry acceptance,” said MediaVest’s Mr. Kite. “That’s why people still go to Nielsen.”
Mr. Kite said many of the proposed research products will evolve into permanent tools that buyers and sellers will use to conduct business. That’s why many researchers will start making decisions soon.
“If you not keeping score,” he said, “you are only practicing.”