By DAVID COHEN. Published by ADAGE on 6 February 2019.
When the concept of viewable vs. non-viewable impressions was introduced into the digital marketplace, I remember thinking “the industry really doesn’t need this friction right now.”
Many in the business were hoping to put the genie back in the bottle, but technology had matured to the point where we could now determine if an ad was called, served, and viewed. And if it wasn’t, there was no value to an advertiser and obviously we shouldn’t be paying for ads that were never seen. This then led to an assumption that publishers will increase prices (of the viewable impressions) to ensure the viability of their business.
The truth was, nothing was really changing—the industry had been operating under a false premise and advertisers had been subsidizing non-viewable impressions for years. Today, the way we measure and buy digital video ad impressions is based on viewable, bot and fraud-free impressions bought against a particular target audience.
TV is a different story. And as we continue to see consumers seamlessly move with content across screens and devices, the ways we measure ad impressions across digital and linear environments must get more closely aligned.
TV currency, commonly known as C3 or C7, are an average of all commercial minutes during a telecast that is watched both live and with three (or seven) days of DVR playback. It is not an actual ad impression as we have in digital. Up until now, the industry has been accepting this as a surrogate for ad delivery, in lieu of other viable options. We now have the ability to get a step closer.
By getting us down to the precise minute in which an ad aired, ECM3 and ECM7—exact commercial minute ratings in the three and seven days after a show airs—is (thankfully) moving us closer to the individual ad level. In fact, if we were running a 60-second ad, we could be getting an actual delivered commercial rating, though the reality is that most ads are 15-seconds and 30-seconds. So, while it wouldn’t be perfect, it would certainly be much closer than an average of all ads in a 30 or 60 minute show (not to mention a three-hour sports telecast!).
Like viewability, the natural question that arises is how exact minute ratings compare to C3 or C7 on a typical client schedule (and who will pay for any shortfall)? Naturally, this varies by demographic and type of content, but we have done some analysis on it. While on a numerical basis it is quite small, the percentage difference can be 20 percent or larger. In all cases, we have seen the more precise ECM ratings were lower than the average commercial ratings. As an industry, this should not deter us, as it is the right thing for us to do. We have the ability now to post on exact commercial minutes and we should lock arms together. Parity is parity, and it requires an apples-to-apples comparison of delivery across channels.
There are some who believe the industry will never move to a currency that reduces the available commercial rating points. Some believe that reducing the commercial load is more important to the longevity of the business than creating a more uniform currency cross-channel. Still others believe that we will skip exact commercial minute ratings (and impressions) entirely and move to a more business results and attribution currency. I think the answer is yes, yes, yes. We should move to exact commercial ratings, reduce the commercial load, and yes, we should start to evaluate performance-based measurement as ultimately that is what our advertising investment is trying to drive. This is not an “either/or” proposition…it’s an “and.”
It is worth noting that while smart in concept, the challenges with performance attribution make it difficult to execute at scale. I am bullish on the long-term viability of buying based on business outcomes, but we still lack the tools to measure this universally and consistently. Not to mention the obstacles we encounter when attempting to connect brand storytelling with a conversion or sale, long conversion cycles, disparate creative and a myriad of variables outside of the media and marketing remit.
We now have the opportunity to, and no longer the excuse not to, bring TV measurement one step closer to the standard set by other video and brand stewards. It is incumbent upon us to do it. Is it a panacea or the answer to all our challenges? No—but it is certainly a step forward to create a more standardized way of counting video impressions across screens. And in my opinion, as an industry we should do it.