On Sunday, February 26th, I rose early, dressed hurriedly, and jogged out to the curb to begin my weekly ritual of reading a hard copy of the New York Times. As I glanced at the front page, I was very surprised to see an article about media research on the bottom fold.
The piece was entitled “FOR MARKETERS, TVs ACT AS PRICELESS SETS OF EYES.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/25/business/media/tv-viewers-tracking-tools.html?_r=0) The article covered an issue that many of us have been pounding the table about for years. With so many other devices going simultaneous to TV viewing, just what is the level of attentiveness to commercial messages in the 21st century?
Many of us were exposed to fragmentary and early set top box data as long as nine years ago, when it appeared that there was a great deal of channel hopping going on during commercial breaks. Intuitively, many of us had felt that but we finally had some proof. Since then, particularly among millennials, the use of a smartphone, tablet or laptop while “watching” TV has grown significantly.
The Times article talked about companies who are working hard to capture commercial ratings, if you will, relative to the standard program ratings that we all have lived with for decades. Advertisers are projected to spend upwards of $70 billion in television advertising in the US this year so providing attentiveness detail would be very valuable indeed to marketers of all broadcast/cable budgets.
The lead player in the article was TVision (pronounced tee vision) which “tracks the movement of people’s eyes in relation to the television.” TVision has approximately 2,000 households in the Boston, Chicago and Dallas-Ft. Worth areas which some may say is small compared to Nielsen’s 42,500 national household sample. Their information is valuable in how granular it is and also their measurement of binge viewing favorites on Netflix and Amazon. If you know what programs have the most engaged viewers, the pricing of primetime inventory is bound to shift, perhaps dramatically.
Also mentioned in the Times article was Symphony Advanced Media which has constructed a panel of 17,500 viewers who have a special mobile app installed in their phones. Participants, in exchange for a small monthly stipend, allow Symphony to track their usage plus a microphone hears what they are watching. Additionally, participants do a questionnaire on usage. The service captures viewings on busses and in sports bars as well.
All this is heady stuff. A well placed media executive told me anonymously that he is increasingly using this kind of data to wean people away from large commitments to television as we know it. For the time being, Nielsen will remain the gold standard in audience measurement. Yet, commercial avoidance continues to march at the fastest pace ever. These new services can wrap some discipline around the conjecture that many of us have had in recent years. And, of course, Nielsen is surely not standing still in terms of their development. It will be a long time before anyone gets ahead of the curve but promising new research is sure to realign the media mix of many significant advertisers.
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