I’ve always found the furore of Facebook and its popularity as a video medium to be slightly counter-intuitive to my own usage of the service, which typically doesn’t go beyond snatches of video played for a couple of seconds, usually without sound.
Relying on one's own consumption to judge an entire market is foolhardy - but I was nevertheless not that surprised to last month hear that Facebook has been routinely over-egging some of its key video metrics for the last few years.
Nobody is suggesting Facebook has done this deliberately but nonetheless, as Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the world’s largest advertising group WPP, has pointed out, it highlights the dangers of having a large dominant company acting as both “referee and player”. There is less incentive to be absolutely rigorous in applying the most accurate and impartial measurement practices.
There’s also been, perhaps understandably, some mild schadenfreude from the TV industry the issue. The TV industry has been told for years now that it is infinitely less “measurable” than online advertising or, if you must, “the digital industry” (not a phrase we love, given that TV has been wholly digital in most developed markets for several years now).
What TV does have of course, that its online counterparts lack, are agreed-upon “gold standard” measurement systems, delivered by the likes of BARB in the UK and Nielsen in the US. These systems have flaws – no media measurement is perfect – but they are understood and accepted industry-wide. Online advertising is nowhere near having this level of industry-wide acceptance.
Return-path data changes things for TV in this respect. It brings rich data to MVPDs about how their services are used. With RPD, operators have a rich, but privately held, set of data about how their service is used – just like Facebook, Google et al have. Some of them want to keep this in-house and use it for internal efforts, but some, including many of our customers, have aspirations to license it, or use as an ad currency.
Which, of course, potentially presents MVPDs with their own “Facebook problem”. How do they combine the best of the online world (granularity) and the best of the TV world (accountability)?
There are a number of models emerging. Some are coming from the regulators themselves, who are looking to add operator RPD to their own panels. BARB’s Project Dovetail is a notable example. In Canada, media regulator CRTC has gone a step further and challenged the country’s whole TV industry to get its act together and adopt more advanced viewing measurement techniques that would enable advanced advertising.
Elsewhere, we see a role for independent auditors and agencies to access the return-path data and audit it for the rest of the market – in much the same way that a company has its books audited by an accountancy firm.
And we’ve also seen models where MVPDs collaborate together on providing return-path data, which would be necessity imply some auditing of one another’s numbers.
Finally, some MVPDs are relying on good old fashioned market clout (maybe we should call it “The Facebook model”) and knowing that, because they are the only game in town, the market has to either do things their way or the highway. A tried and tested model, perhaps – but one that provides risk that MVPDs to have their own “Facebook moment” at some point down the line.