Digital Isn’t TV So Why Are Advertisers Addicted To TV Measurement?


The boycott of Google’s YouTube platform didn’t just crack the door open on digital advertising; it blew it off its hinges. Exposed to the spotlight of ire, analysis boomeranged around the industry and left data providers scrambling to provide better data for brand safe solutions.

But all the new solutions and analysis overlook the fact that Google’s problems hang on a single idea which advertising is married to – measurement.

It’s a reflection of a mature marketplace when such measurement systems are readily agreed and critically, traded upon. This means that everyone involved in that system trusts that the system works.

In an effort to make their platform more advertiser-attractive, Google (and other ecosystem participants) started to treat YouTube like it was an extension of TV.   After all, it contained the main elements of TV: similar content, audiences and ads.

How the digital video ecosystem exists, operates, lives and thrives is profoundly different to TV though – from the way audiences form to how advertising is sold – at the root of all these differences lies the culprit, TV Ratings, itself an imperfect measurement tool.

Used by TV networks to drive advertising incomes, Audience measurements, i.e. Ratings, determine the market price of adverts and thus: the cost and selection of programme production; cast salaries; profitability derived from advertising income for the programme/network; determine the audience size; market rank; and an industry hierarchy.

Ratings measure exposure to content, not ads. As a pure measure of viewership, they provide objective, numerate information which forms the standard for the buying and selling of audiences. Ratings companies buy and sell ‘ratings numbers’, providing a critical role in the economic exchange of these ‘ratings numbers’ in a three-way advertising marketplace.   The Ratings thus denote trust and become an advertising currency.

Digital Is Not One Platform

In all the noise about brand safety, one key factor has been ignored. Digital is not a single platform or medium.

Digital is about seven (or more) primary platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Websites, etc.) with YouTube as the dominant video platform.   These platforms all live on the Internet, but they all have different business models, measurement systems; audience behaviour and advertising models.

Solutions that attempt to utilise the same targeting and delivery mechanism simply can’t work across all these platforms – just as they couldn’t across radio, TV or print.

Though the industry is trying to make digital video more like TV, Google needs to define the model that is fit for purpose. The existing model of the ‘walled garden’ is pretty good, and the programmatic ad buying feature is smart.

Murky misconceptions about the adtech industry need to be dispelled; for clarity:

Digital Is More Precise, And That’s A Problem

Digital video advertising is about precision. Where ratings are based on sampling methods and extrapolated data, digital gives precise measurements; it’s exact.

Where ratings calculate an audience average, digital tells you exactly how many times a piece of content was viewed.

Where TV can only estimate a number of views, digital can tell you exactly how many times your ad was watched, who watched it and in some cases (where there’s the option to click through to purchasing) if the product was purchased. That’s a powerful advertising dynamic that simply isn’t measurable in TV.

The success of TV ratings as an advertising currency is predicated on this formula of audience measurement: TV on = watching = paying attention = watching programme means watching commercial = buy the product.

It’s a pretty fantastical assertion, but that’s the logic applied to the TV model of advertising. Digital advertising just obliterates that model. Digital provides a window into the world of advertising in a way that broadcast simply doesn’t, because it can’t.

Independent ratings aren’t necessary in digital video because the TV three-way marketplace doesn’t exist. For broadcast mediums, that’s mind blowing.

For YouTube, it’s a direct to advertiser model (albeit it has a muddied supply chain), Google is the de facto measurement system. It has provided all kinds of metrics to illustrate the efficacy of the ad spend, far beyond anything TV delivers.

The viewing metrics and consumer outcomes couldn’t be clearer yet there persists a desire for independent measurement and verification – it’s a hangover from an advertising model created in the 1950s.

Many of the solutions offered to address the current YouTube ‘brand safety’ issues focus on two elements:

  • Constraining video supply via video inventory
  • Promoting independent 3rd party verification

Both solutions focus on recreating the TV model of measurement – independent verification; big audience numbers; limited advertising spots; limited advertising inventory. Constraining supply and verification of supply limits the pool of content available for ‘brand safe’ advertising and if adopted, will increase the cost of advertising – whilst at the same time killing the digital video ecosystem.

Post-campaign verification tells you AFTER your campaign has run where your ads were served. Whilst that may be useful for the next campaign, it’s not all that beneficial to the current one.

This is precisely the method adopted for TV: it attempts to verify the predicted, measured and actual audience, linking audience size to ad spend.

Part of the success of YouTube has been its user generated content which creates hyper-fragmented audiences, the polar opposite of mass TV audiences. Here again, digital wins out because the fine segmentation allows for qualified audience targeting. That can’t happen on TV which by its nature is broad.

This notional concept that smaller audiences are better is anathema to advertisers used to massive audiences. Digital advertisers need to recognise that lower eyeball counts may result in better campaigns. TV ‘hopes’ target consumers are reached, digital allows precision targeting which directly taps the ideal consumer.

As Europe rolls out GDPR legislation which will impact data-driven advertising, new audience metrics need to be employed in digital video.

Digital may be imperfect, but the challenge is not to make digital advertising measurement ‘more like TV’, it is to define measurement systems appropriate for that medium. They already exist.