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#Retrace2021: Inching towards a connected future of audience measurement

Convergence emerged as the common ground between the Neilsen and Barc controversies

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Mumbai: It was for the first time since the 1960s, that Nielsen’s measurement lost a “seal of approval” from the industry that uses it, as leading advertisers and TV networks sought alternate means of counting their audiences. The TV measurement company had long faced criticism from the Video Advertising Bureau (trade organisation representing the advertising sales departments of networks and distributors) over undercounting the TV viewing during the pandemic, and the exclusion of broadband-only homes. The months-long feud culminated in the suspension of accreditation of Nielsen’s national and local TV ratings service by the Media Ratings Council, effective mid-September 2021.

Also read: Nielsen loses accreditation for TV measurement service

Matters were further compounded by NBCUniversal launching a measurement RFP in August, calling for “measurement independence”. In September, even as Nielsen CEO David Kenny acknowledged the gap and bias in measurement as a result of the exclusion of broadband-only homes representing nearly 30 per cent of TV households in some local markets, ViacomCBS announced its partnership with software and data platform, VideoAmp for TV measurement data. The move opened the way for other networks to explore alternative means of counting their audiences.

Also read: ViacomCBS teams up with VideoAmp for TV Measurement after Nielsen loses accreditation

At the centre of this growing dissatisfaction with the panel-based measurement system was the Connected-TV revolution and the under as well as misrepresentation of the large universe of the audience that has either completely cut the cord or is consuming both linear and CTV across devices and platforms. The industry was clamouring for a unified identifier that could bring about fundamental changes in the current measurement system which oversimplifies viewing across CTV by extending linear TV measurement standards to it and/or combining two viewing data sets that do not have common metrics.

Hopes were now pinned on Nielsen ONE, Nielsen’s single cross-media product providing reach and frequency metrics by delivering a holistic, deduplicated view of both content and ad performance regardless of screen, device or platform.

Laying the groundwork for implementing the new flagship currency across local, national and digital measurement towards the end of September, Nielsen announced the “Impressions First Initiative” for impression-based buying and selling in local markets across the US, as well as the integration of Broadband-Only Homes into local measurement in January 2022. The impression-based currency will deliver a more complete, precise and representative audience measurement, along with the added benefit of enabling cross-platform audience measurement, it said. 

Going full-throttle on its digital transformation, in October Nielsen unveiled a new brand campaign, including a new identity, reflecting the company’s focus on delivering digital-first and global-first media solutions in three areas—measurement, audience outcomes and content services. The shift signaled the combining and enhancing its measurement solutions into the single cross-media measurement solution, Nielsen One.

Announcing the year’s biggest development and the culmination of a long wait, on 21 December 2021, Nielsen unveiled the first iteration of Nielsen ONE, ‘NielsenONE Alpha’ with Disney and MAGNA as participants. The newest deduplicated ad-measurement will continue to evolve with new feature additions, enhancements, and model improvements leading up to the launch of the final product in the fourth quarter of 2022.

Aligning India with the global digital shift  

While the connected TV/OTT ecosystem in India is not as well developed and deeply entrenched yet, it is relevant here to recall Barc India’s intent to initiate ‘one video view’ measurement, announced in September 2020 by ex CEO Sunil Lulla. At the height of the TRP scam that broke out around the same time, a section of the industry had expressed doubt regarding some stakeholders derailing the ratings agency’s efforts and intentions to bring forth a unified, cross-platform measurement system.

Also read: Nielsen to launch new commercial metrics to track individual ads on TV

The TRP committee formed in the aftermath of the scandal recommended measures to reinstate faith in the current rating system by strengthening corporate governance within Barc India at the board level through independent technical oversight, term limits, and wide representation that minimises conflicts of interest. The 39-page report also pushed for the formation of multiple rating agencies in competition to Barc India and creating a specialised regulator to oversee all of them.

Even as it addressed the pitfalls in linear TV measurement, the four-member panel led by Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati laid down the framework for a comprehensive transformation and democratisation of the country’s rating systems and standards in line with the global shift towards digital.

Considering the increasing convergence between STBs and smart media devices and the emergence of hybrid boxes capable of both CAS compliant linear TV viewing and internet streaming-based OTT viewing, the committee recommended a Return Path Data (RPD) mandate in all future STBs deployed by Distribution Platform Operators (DPOs). It also noted the emergence of smartphone-based apps capable of interacting with such hybrid boxes as paving the way for additional avenues for RPD data capture and relay.

Further, it suggested the government/regulator examines incentives and policy interventions including FDI norms in the media audience measurement technology space so that India emerges as the hub for global innovation in this sector.

Acknowledging the growth in digital advertising as well as the trend of linear TV viewing over interfaces other than traditional televisions and beyond the threshold of conventional households, the committee stressed the need for regulatory interventions to foster innovation while allowing for value chains to evolve, keeping pace with global trends and local market dynamics.

“A hallmark of digital innovations over the past few decades has been disintermediation within value chains and disruption across industry domains, leveling the playing field and spurring competition. The world of linear television ought to be no exception to such disintermediation between buyers and sellers of media. There are no reasons why new models of advertising such as platform-based advertising, location-based advertising, programmatic advertising, etc must not emerge,” it said while adding that the guidelines prescribed must not privilege any one business model over another, nor create barriers to the emergence of more efficient business models.

The above recommendations are both practicable and necessary considering the pace at which television viewing is evolving in India. As per mediasmart’s India CTV Report 2021, CTV viewing in India is on a significant uptick and increased by 31 per cent, compared to 81 per cent globally. Even though India is still a young market, it has tremendous potential for CTV adoption by consumers. In April 2020, 21 per cent of CTV viewing households were cord-cutters (households who cut the cord within the past five years), whereas 22 per cent were cord-nevers (households with no cable/satellite subscription in the past five years).

Ormax Media research pins the Indian OTT audience universe at 353.2 million people, translating into a penetration of 25.3 per cent. According to various other estimates, the figure including YouTube is roughly 500 million. As regards CTV adoption, Madison’s Q2 report revealed that smart TV shipments grew by almost 65 per cent, claiming an 80 per cent share of the total TV shipments. Their massive adoption was fuelled by starting price points as low as Rs.15000.

Given that TV as a medium still has considerable scope for growth in India, preparing for a connected future may seem like a long shot at this juncture. However, the Indian market which is often typecast as ‘underdeveloped’ is also a curious one where the digital revolution is being brought about by smartphones that have outmaneuvered PCs as the primary or base medium. With the current regulatory regime that seems to accelerate the clear segmentation of audience between Free Dish and streaming services by allegedly disincentivising Pay/Cable TV, we might be in for more surprises. 

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