Blog: How long is a piece of (media) string?

The ACA's Chris Williams challenges the notion that metrics have always been black and white, but is confident that digital players will soon find a leading approach.
Chris Williams 2016

Pity the delegates of the 1875 Metre Convention.

Up until that time, the metre was defined as one ten-millionth of the shortest distance from the North Pole to the equator passing through Paris. This distance was represented by a single physical bar however, the bar was now too short. Delegates from 17 countries aimed to produce the definitive metric of length but were hindered by history and politics. The French Metric system had been adopted by several countries including Germany, yet the system was still under control of French administration and France had lost the Franco-Prussian war in 1870.

Thinking about measurement and standards whether of geography or media usually starts with a blasé acceptance of the existing metric as if it is universally understood. Scratch a little bit at the history and detail of how that metric came to be and you uncover the clash of conflicting agendas, power politics and a group of unsung heroes who toil in obscurity for the common good. Carlos Ibáñez e Ibáñez de Ibero is not a commonly known person however it was his political astuteness that created the international body that governed the new metre.

Who cares? Ask the person who drove their car into Lake Huron following GSP coordinates.

So, what does this have to do with media?

Well, what is an impression? What is a GRP? What is a view? The marketer only has one media budget to spend, but how can they transact with trust when the units of measure are dancing bits of light on a screen, voices through the ether or ink on paper?

Cue the clash of agendas since a less stringent metric sways the media spend towards certain vendors and channels. Even better if the media vendor can create their own special proprietary metric which it self-governs. What is a view, a share or a “like,” and are they all the same from different vendors who use the same words?

Media measurement has become international with the rise of digital platforms. Compare that with the situation in television where, like the map makers of Middle Ages, marketers must be aware of different national methods of GRP definition.

While the digital platforms aim for standard metrics regardless of country, they too face the same situation as the delegates of 1875 and as a result find a similar solution, an international consensus based on a leading national approach.

On Dec. 5, 1956, Herb Stempel, a contestant on the television game show Twenty-One was asked who the winner of the 1955 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture was. Easy. Marty was one of his favourite movies. But he answered On the Waterfront and lost the $69,500 prize money.

Herb had been coached by the show’s producers to lose to the more popular Charles Van Doren for the sake of the show ratings. After all, ratings are media currency and audience is money. U.S. Congressman Oren Harris instigated hearings on quiz show scandals, leading to founding of the Broadcast Rating Council in 1964, later called the Media Rating Council.

Today, the Media Rating Council finds its work, based on domestic U.S. needs, being applied internationally as advertisers demand standard impression definitions across all countries even affecting local markets as digital video and television strive for comparable metrics.

Chris Williams is VP of digital for the Association of Canadian Advertisers