Will Mediapulse soon be superfluous?

The digitization of the TV world will also change the way ratings are measured - various alternative currencies are emerging.

This article is not about Mediapulse's communicative sidelining of the introduction of the new measurement panel (which, as we all know, is the number one topic in the industry these days). Instead, it's about the fact that the rapidly advancing digitization of the TV world is creating diverse and extensive usage data that can supplement, if not replace, conventional measurement methods for TV ratings. These four variants are the focus here:

1. digital TV

Around two million households have already switched from analog to digital television and receive services from the two market leaders UPC Cablecom and Swisscom or from the runner-up Sunrise and local network operators. Demand continues unabated, with no saturation point in sight for the time being, so it is foreseeable that the days of analog offerings are numbered. This is nothing less than a departure from the broadcasting model of the 20th century to the streaming model of the 21st century.

And there have long been software offerings and international standards with which cable TV operators can evaluate the usage behavior of their customers. For example, for product design (offer packages, bundles, prices, functions and features), for business reasons (negotiations with program providers), for customer relationship management (cross-selling and up-selling, customer retention), in order to be able to design new services (personalized offers, recommendations for content based on previous consumption behavior, targeted advertising, etc.), and last but not least for operational improvement (channel set-up, bandwidth use, etc.).

And there are external stakeholders for this data: Data processors (who aggregate and process data from various network operators), market researchers (who formulate insights based on the processed data with additional data and models), broadcasters and networks (selection of content, optimization of ad placement), content producers (design of story flow, popularity of individual actors, basis for licensing agreements), and finally for advertising: quite traditionally, to target specific audience segments more specifically when placing individual spots, but also to draw conclusions about their design.

Unlike conventional survey methods, where a small section of the audience (panel) is extrapolated to the entire viewing behavior, here the data of all customers is available. The extent to which digital TV consumers are currently representative of the audience as a whole will have to be discussed. As Werbewoche's inquiries with the market leaders show, the telecommunications companies are not (yet) eager to play an active role with their data. According to media spokesman Marc Maurer, UPC Cablecom "currently has no intention of making usage data available to companies for media planning in the advertising sector". And at Swisscom, media spokesman Olaf Schulze confirms that with the Swisscom TV products and the mobile offering Swisscom TV air, "a very broad usage database is available, the evaluation of which could be expanded." However, there are "currently no concrete plans or ideas" to process this data for the media or advertising industry.

2. web TV

In contrast to IPTV services, which benefit from technical advantages for quality assurance in the respective provider's network during transmission, web TV services are distributed via the Internet. Due to the special legal situation for the settlement of copyrights via collecting societies, offerings such as Zattoo, Wilmaa or Teleboy have been able to develop early and unhindered in Switzerland. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the overall population from web TV users. Karim Zekri, CEO of Teleboy AG, explains: "Basically, the ratings behave very similarly. Major events and live broadcasts, especially sports, generate the highest ratings, just as on classic TV. However, there can be deviations for individual formats due to the tendency of the younger user group or other factors. In a target group that only watches TV via Teleboy or another Internet TV provider, we are of course representative.

Michael Loss, who is responsible for media relations at Wilmaa, also mentions the comparatively lower usage of the free-access offering, and he also confirms: "However, premium customers who use the paid service can be compared well with traditional TV consumers in terms of their behavior. And at Zattoo, Jörg Meyer, Vice President in the Content and Consumer division, reports: "The usage of Zattoo over the course of the day is very much in line with the daily curve from the official reach measurement - even if there are certainly some differences in the reaches at channel level." An advantage for audience research is that all web TV users are logged in and have stored additional socio-demographic data, which is evaluated (anonymized) and made available by the service providers to advertisers for more precise target group selection.

3. smart TV

Another interesting possibility for TV reach measurement is opened up by smart TV. This is the term used to describe Internet-enabled TV sets, which have become the standard in recent times. As with smartphones, apps can be installed on smart TVs. There are already initial concepts that show how such an app logs usage on the respective device and reports it to the app operator. A special feature could be the camera installed in the latest TV models to enable video calls. It could be used for facial recognition to record the number of viewers in front of the screen to the second. And more: As photo cameras of newer design show, not only facial recognition can be realized at low cost, but also the recognition of smiling faces (which can be used to control the shutter release on cameras). For reach measurement via smart TV, this means that emotions can also be collected - which would be a real data treasure for program creators and advertisers alike. The main obstacle to such an approach is therefore hardly to be found in the technology, but in the market communication, in order to credibly explain to the audience that the data obtained in this way will in any case only be used in anonymized form.

4. social TV

There are no such data protection concerns for anyone who comments on the current TV program via Twitter or Facebook, which is referred to as social TV. Thus, with the advent of social networks, another data pool has emerged to measure TV usage, not quantitatively but also qualitatively. The pioneer in this field is the American company Bluefin Labs, which was a start-up based on research at the MIT Media Lab (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and was acquired by Twitter in February. For more than 40 TV networks and agencies, as well as a number of well-known brands, Bluefin analyzes data streams from Twitter and Facebook in the U.S. to assign comments to current TV shows and rate them. This creates new insights into audience behavior that influence not only bookings for TV spots, but also the production of shows and commercials and their running times. And Bluefin is no curious oddity: Last December, Nielsen Media Research, the leading market research firm in the U.S. for TV audience measurement, joined with Twitter to announce the "Nielsen Twitter TV Rating," which will launch this fall and reveal how audiences respond to TV content. 

RTB also for TV advertising?

It is becoming clear that the digitization of the TV world is creating various new data sources for measuring usage and reach. Two, the data from IPTV and Web TV, are concretely available today and could be processed and evaluated. Others, such as smart TV and social TV, are on the horizon. This creates alternatives to the established reach meters, such as Mediapulse in Switzerland, and raises the question of how to deal with them. Should all the data that can provide information about TV consumption be poured into a single funnel so that they can be used to produce a uniform result that is the only valid "single currency" in the industry, as has been the case up to now? Or should the market be allowed to play its role, and those who have data should sell it, and those who need it should be able to buy it from one or more providers and process and evaluate the data for their own benefit? In that case, Mediapulse, especially since it is supported by the state, would no longer be needed.
 
How this question is answered will be decisive for the future shape of the TV advertising market. Starting from digital advertising, as many advertising slots are traded online and in real time, the idea arises to use such approaches (such as real-time bidding, RTB) also for booking TV spots, which is predicted by experts especially in the U.S. and already applied for online videos. And just as in digital advertising, data plays a key role here: those who have better insights into audience behavior can deploy their resources more effectively. And, as with digital advertising, streaming content offers the opportunity to target ads based on profile data to only those viewers who have an above-average affinity for the message based on the data analyzed. This fundamentally changes the business with TV advertising, because instead of buying it from the broadcasters as before, it would now be booked with the network operators (who in turn would have to conclude corresponding license agreements with the program providers). When and how Switzerland will implement this change (including adaptation of the legal requirements) remains to be seen and will be exciting to watch.
 
Christoph J. Walther

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