Adopt a new vision of tech possibilities
In this newly decentralized data domain, green shoots of entrepreneurship abound. NBCU’s Kelly Abcarian, NBCUniversal’s executive vice president of Measurement & Impact, Advertising & Partnerships and a former ratings company executive, noted in a recent blog post: “It’s time for us to declare measurement independence… . We need all our industry’s builders…to architect an entirely new blueprint.” Referring to the need to move beyond “outdated advertising measurement,” NBCU is looking across the industry at potential partners to create what it calls “a new global currency” for audience measurement that “values content fairly.”
Determining what is “fair,” the data that should form the basis of this currency and the approach to implementing such a new system are critical challenges ahead. NBCU is joined if not literally then in objective by both established and emerging media players. In fall 2021, ViacomCBS announced that their advertisers could use VideoAmp metrics as an alternative to Nielsen; Univision made a similar announcement with respect to Comscore. Both media measurement companies are potential partners for NBCU, as well.
Another newer market entrant among many with ambitions in this space is Diesel Labs. The company’s CEO Anjali Midha has a perspective like many linear TV leaders, which is that viewership numbers in streaming are extraordinarily difficult to quantify. In fact, identifying even the most basic streaming viewership is complicated, as Warner Media has not permitted Nielsen to include HBO Max in its publicly released streaming figures. Netflix has just for the first time publicly released a list of their most-watched programming, virtually daring their competitors to follow suit. Of course, Netflix’s self-generated numbers still represent “grading one’s own homework,” and releasing the information in a fashion that will reflect best on Netflix. Even if ultimately publicly available, this fragmentation only makes life more complex for media buyers and sellers.
Diesel Labs’ alternative approach is to develop a snapshot of movies, TV shows, games and books, with the goal of leveraging third-party data from every major social media app to create a proxy to help producers, networks, platforms and ultimately marketers shape their content-related business decisions. This data- and tech-centered company and many others are aiming to solve these data challenges by providing the foundation of next-generation media analytics. Does this approach work? That answer awaits testing and learning from the market. And if it does work, do you know how would you incorporate that into your existing data stack?
Given this swirl of data-related issues, how should media and entertainment players approach this challenge? First, as Will Whatton emphasized, “Companies must play offense and defense simultaneously, managing risks from obsolete or inaccurate data and seizing new opportunities in a rapidly changing market.” Next, according to Johnny Lee, Grant Thornton’s national leader of Forensic Technology, “You’ve got to look at the validity of all your underlying data, not just data results. Keep in mind that 80 to 90 percent of data analytics takes place ‘below the surface.’ And finally, be cautious about the inferences you draw from data. Data that may be highly valuable for one function may be far less so when applied elsewhere.” The best way to navigate the flood of new data might be summed up with the old Russian proverb made famous by Ronald Reagan in his arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union. “Trust but verify.”