Brands Beware Of Thin Digital Video Viewing Metrics

Mark RitsonMay 31, 20163 min

In recent weeks it’s been hard to avoid the digital versus TV war that looks set to dominate marketing.

At the start of May, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki fired first when she told advertisers that YouTube was now reaching “more 18 to 49 year-olds during prime time than the top 10 US TV shows combined”. A day later Joan Gillman, Time Warner’s COO, hit back with the results of a study showing that if YouTube were a TV show it would rank 354th in the nation for audience share.

So who is telling the truth? Crucially, it all depends on your definition of what constitutes an audience. If you look only at reach and ignore time spent or use the “digital views” approach that claims an audience member as soon as they encounter three seconds of a partial, soundless video like Facebook or Instagram, then digital video is the clear winner.

If, however, you dive deeper and measure an audience on a minute by minute basis and then publish the average figure for the duration of the video the results change dramatically. Gillman’s relegation of YouTube to 354th is accurate if you measure audiences on how many you captured per minute rather than how many momentarily glanced your way at any point.

Until recently these distinctions did not actually matter. Digital video used their system and the TV channels used theirs. But as the digital ambitions of the social media platforms have grown and their appetite for big brand advertising has become bigger, the battle between TV and digital video has suddenly intensified and, as usual in marketing, we fight over metrics.

I’ve always assumed a certain questionable quotient with all viewing numbers. Even from the earliest days of BARB the difference between room population and an actual advertising audience was always a bit of an unreliable ratio. But this harmless handful of b.s. it sprinkled liberally across TV audience numbers has paled into insignificance versus the three forklift trucks of b.s. that now arrive, free of charge, with most digital video audience estimates.

Last October, for example, Yahoo claimed its livestream of an American Football game attracted 15 million viewers. That’s an impressive debut given the average TV game garners 18 million. But this is not an apples to apples comparison, it is an apples to oranges comparison.

While 15 million different people did indeed, at some point, briefly encounter the coverage, the average audience per minute for the livestream was only 1.6 million viewers – less than a 10th of the typical TV audience.

It was a similar story when ESPN claimed that more than 115 million people watched the 2014 World Cup from Brazil on digital devices versus a measly 4.6 million on TV. But when you hold that number up to the standard of an average audience per minute those multi-millions turn into a digital tournament audience of 300,000 or about 7% of those watching on TV.

This tells you that every time you see a digital video “audience” it is crucial to ask the metric being used to define it.

Enter Nielsen

What’s urgently needed is a media Rosetta Stone to help translate digital views into TV audiences and vice versa. It’s here that the supremely impressive Steve Hasker becomes marketing’s only real hope. Hasker is the global president of Nielsen and has spearheaded the company’s ‘Total Audience Measurement’ approach. The tool, newly launched this year in the U.S., now enables advertisers to see a complete breakdown of video audiences across viewing platforms using a single, comparable measuring system.

No news yet on what the results tell us but this is one audience associated with digital views that actually is engaged.

This thought piece is featured courtesy of Marketing Week, the United Kingdom’s leading marketing publication.

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