Set-top box measurement is good for business: blog

Media Experts' Ian MacLean says Canadian media cos will fall behind if a local update to TV metrics doesn't come soon.
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By: Ian MacLean

With the CRTC’s Let’s Talk TV public hearing now moving to the deliberation phase, we wanted to share our perspective on the commission’s proposal that a TV measurement system be developed based on data aggregated from the millions of set-top boxes (STBs) through which Canadians receive their video content from broadcast distribution undertakings (BDUs).

Media Experts fully supports the creation of a Canadian STB-based audience measurement system for three principle reasons:

1. Canadian television needs a better system of measurement.
2. There is a strong economic argument supporting its creation.
3. There is a very real need for a “made in Canada” solution that protects the privacy of Canadians.

The current TV measurement system pales in comparison to the scale, granularity and speed of reporting of other digital channels. It is out of date. It fails to provide the scope or timeliness needed to provide advertisers with the ability to assess the impact of their TV advertising within their global advertising activity.

With Canadians’ video viewing increasingly fragmented across a variety of devices and platforms, adding to the complexity of its measurement, there is a critical need for greater consistency in high-quality, objective, census-level audience data wherever Canadians are watching. In order to harness and manage the symbiotic relationship that exists between multiple media channels when deployed simultaneously by an advertiser, one has to be able to measure them on an equal footing.

Canadian advertisers need a measurement system that moves beyond outdated surveys to reflect census-level measurement with sample sizes large enough to dramatically increase the precision, reliability and malleability of ratings data.

The economic argument:

Canadian advertisers currently rely on a survey comprised of data drawn from some 4,530 of Canada’s 15 million+ households. As a result of this small sample size, viewership to many channels is regularly reported as “zero” making the task of calculating the delivery of an advertising campaign to specific audiences difficult, imprecise and often impossible.

With a larger, census-level and reflective sample of Canadian viewing, advertisers could more accurately understand viewership to the long tail of TV channels and use this information to more effectively distribute their messaging across a wider number of channels where, US STB data has already confirmed, valuable target audiences are watching. US advertisers already operate at a competitive advantage as they have access to STB data, and the actionable insights it provides, from millions of US TV households.

Unlocking the value in TV’s long tail would benefit the broadcast industry, as advertisers – drawing on a larger sample of ratings data from millions of STBs – would invest with greater confidence in campaigns on Canada’s specialty and digital specialty channels.

Set-top box viewing data, and browsing data from a household’s IP address, would provide advertisers with powerful tools to better understand consumer behaviour, provide greater insight into campaign performance across media channels and better optimize the delivery of their advertising campaigns, improving their return on advertising investment.

The need for a “made in Canada” solution:

If an anonymized STB data-based measurement system is not created within the currently regulated environment, our industry stakeholders (broadcasters, BDUs, advertisers and audience measurement companies) may soon find themselves in a compromised position.  With the advancing penetration of smart TVs (now in some 42% of Canadian households), and a growing number of over-the-top (OTT) TV delivery devices and platforms available to Canadian consumers, there is a rapidly growing body of TV viewing data flowing to operators outside the regulatory purview of the CRTC.

It seems inevitable that an audience measurement system will develop independently, and risks becoming the common TV measurement currency in what is now a largely unregulated OTT space. Given the scale and scope of the viewing data collected by these global operators, they will inevitably challenge the legacy of Canadian TV measurement system.

Without the benefit of regulatory oversight, there is also a danger that personal information associated with viewing behaviours of Canadians in the OTT space might be abused, compromising the privacy of Canadian consumers.

An STB data-based measurement system developed collaboratively with industry stakeholders would provide TV with the level of granularity and speed needed to remain as current, competitive and relevant as other digital advertising channels, and provide economic benefit to our industry while protecting the privacy of Canadians.

It’s good for business and it’s good for Canada.

Ian MacLean is VP of communications and advanced video solutions with Media Experts and member of the board of directors of Numeris.