Addressing the right questions

‘Addressable TV’ is here. Depending on who you talk to its either the future of TV advertising, or indeed its saviour, or probably both.

Like most people, I’m very optimistic about ‘Addressable’. The potentials for media owners to maximise and increase their inventory by reducing wastage, as well as the potential for planners to execute and target campaigns more efficiently, what’s not to like?

Well, part of me has a niggling worry that the move to ‘addressable’ will mean a move to more short term direct response metrics to assess effectiveness (when the true value of TV advertising as we know is in the long term brand build), but away from that what worries me most is that we as an industry get the measurement right (quelle surprise).

Linear TV advertising, by and large has always been and still today measured in a fully transparent and audited way. In the UK it’s run by a JIC (Joint Industry Currency), no black box, a published methodology and with input from all sides of the trading ecosystem. It’s not for everyone I appreciate, but these fundamentals mean that it is trusted, but also fair. Neither side can game the system to their own liking, its independent. And that’s hugely important.

So, what of ‘’addressable? Well, in the online world, for video just as other display, the trade is largely conducted via self reporting by the publisher or ad-exchange. Those that are in control of the measurement ultimately. On its own, I have no issue with this, but if the measurement is abused, mis-interpreted or ill-judged, then ultimately we abuse the media itself, and that concerns me.

Now I should be clear, I’m not suggesting there is or will be any abuse at play, but my concern is that television viewing is unlike other media consumption or at least other ‘online’ media consumption, and the measurement needs to be fully aware of this and take this on board when aggregating impressions and deriving demographics.

So this is an informal call to arms for the industry to set out its stall for standards, its minimum level of reassurance that what we are buying is what is actually happening, to show our working, and not make the mistakes that have impacted other areas of online buying and selling. As Dominic Mills put it far better than I in a recent Mediatel article, there is a growing need for the industry to see more transparency in the algorithms used by media owners to justify the spend by clients. It’s not much to ask for really.

My hope is that ‘addressable’, like traditional linear spot advertising will be conducted in an open, transparent and critically audited manner.  As such, here are my top six categories and questions for agencies and clients to consider when buying addressable from publishers and platforms:

  1. Who is the actual viewer?

BARB estimates there are 62.8m people with a TV set in the UK. Those 62.8m people live within 27m households, meaning on average there are 2.3 people per household as potential viewers. Old, young, male, female, all potentially very different in every viewing occasion. Furthermore, around 4% of TV viewing is actually in someone else’s home, so how is this taken into account? Of 16-24 viewing, 12% is actually in another person’s home.

If your data is based on a single login entry, device ID or registration, is it clear as to whether the demographic is household or individual based?  If the provider is claiming to know with accuracy who the viewer is, if so ask them to show you how they know? How sure is the provider as to whether the viewer is the original subscriber or someone else in the household or indeed someone from a totally different household?

  1. Shared Viewers

Television is not just a solus viewing experience, it’s a shared experience, to enjoy with friends and family. As such, around 50% of all television is with at least two people in the room watching. Who are these viewers, can they be counted? Especially as the shared viewing ratio changes depending on the type of programme people are watching or indeed the type of TV set they are watching on. The larger the TV set, the more people generally watching together.

VpV Factors

With this in mind, how does the ‘addressable’ provider account for this potential wastage as this, even if not charged to the client should be taken on board when assessing the overall campaign.

  1. No Viewers

The TV may well be on, but is anyone actually watching?  Within the BARB measurement, around 10% of TV On time is discarded within their measurement, because even though the TV is on, there are no viewers watching. Does the ‘addressable’ data you are buying take this into account, especially as this time away from the TV is likely to be around advertising breaks (to go to the toilet, the kitchen etc)?

  1. TV Off

Similarly to above, the TV might be off, but the data relating to ‘addressable’ (set top box, tuner/IP connection) may itself be on, so does the data relating to addressable reporting ensure that only data coming from TV sets that are switched on, is included within the reporting?

  1. Demographics

Just what are the demographics from which the provider is selling? Is this based on declared demographics from users (registration data), or is this derived, say from behavioural algorithms based on viewing patterns and choices? Whichever it is, is this clear to the buyer and has this been validated (if so, by who)?  Furthermore, how do the demographics from one seller, differ or compare to that of a different seller?

  1. Aggregating impressions

How are the aggregations of impressions scaled as part of the reporting? Is this based on a census of all TVs/set top boxes, or is this based on a sample and scaled to the total population? In either manner, this should be clear to the buyer, and equally independently audited. What are the universes from which this scaling is happening, who determines the population size? Is this transparent?

A call to arms

Reassuringly, in the UK at least, the current main provider of linear addressable, Sky Media, do indeed take on board 3rd party auditing of their algorithms (via the audience measurement specialists, RSMB) and they try to ensure many of the issues above are taken on board which is great to know. However, as linear ‘addressable’ (via the TV set) grows, it is important these endeavours will be replicated by new entrants into the market and transparency is shown to clients. If not, then there is an argument that the industry itself should intervene to set and enforce standards of transparency in the data used as part of ‘addressable’ trading.  Ideally, and maybe romantically, I would hope the future trading would still come under the remit of the JIC, in this case BARB, providing that level of trust in buying and selling that currently exists. But if this is not possible, in the absence of that, then perhaps ISBA or the IPA representing their clients should be the custodians, enforcing a minimum audited specification for providers to adhere, an industry stamp of approval/certification if you like.

In either case, the television industry has a fantastic opportunity to make TV advertising even better than it already is. It would be terrible if this was not full-filled because of poor measurement.