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February 5, 2019
Will TV Catch Up With Digital Channels?
The short answer: It’s sure starting to look that way.
There’s always been a stark contrast between what advertisers come to expect from digital channels and what they’ve settled with from TV. Monitoring TV metrics continues to be one of the toughest nuts to crack for technologists and data engineers who have spent the past few decades looking for ways to unlock insights beyond basic viewership and demographics. For TV, the Holy Grail is insight into how TV investments influence high-value viewer behaviors, such as understanding whether a commercial drove traffic to a website, a product placement increased online or in-store conversions, or a whether sponsorship drove action locally or nationally.
Digital channels, on the other hand, offer real-time visibility into basic views and traffic, as well as more complex scenarios such as a user’s multistep journey to conversion after a single encounter with a brand.
Because TV remains one of the most efficient ways to create widespread audience awareness
and drive desired actions among specific audiences (though brands commonly lack the data to prove it), it has remained a fixed and important line item in advertisers’ budgets.
As someone who has spent more than 20 years working to crack the TV analytics code, I can say with confidence that, thanks to some recent critical breakthroughs, TV will soon be in a position to catch up with, and possibly even surpass, the level of sophistication digital channels offer when it comes to measurement. Here’s a look at five TV breakthroughs that have emerged over just the last couple of years — or will emerge soon.
1. Nearly Real-Time Delivery Of Basic And Complex TV Data
While advertisers and networks have always had access to basic viewership and demographic analytics, the average amount of time they’ve had to wait for them has been well over 30 days from the air date, and sometimes close to 90 days. New technologies are not only getting basic data to us in near real-time, but they’re also allowing advertisers to essentially query live TV to determine where their name or other keywords have been mentioned, and where their logos or other images have appeared, on both earned and paid media.
2. We’ll Soon Be Able To Map TV Viewers’ Journeys
Digital channels were built on the intention of tracing audiences’ journeys from initial exposure to a given endpoint. The same cannot be said about TV, but we’re getting close to knowing exactly what audiences see and hear on screen and how it influences their behaviors on other channels. Rather than simply tying viewers to a specific show or timeslot, we’re also able to understand what else they’re watching, what messaging and branding they’re hearing and seeing, and whether they’re influenced more by paid or earned content.
3. We Now Know Where TV Is Driving High-Value, In-Person Engagement
The last couple of years have seen companies racing to release new metrics that will enable brands to compare their TV investments with very specific in-person engagement in local markets. These metrics get brands closer than ever to attributing TV campaigns to audience behaviors, such as sales transactions, in-store foot traffic, visits to car dealerships (say, for a test drive promotion) and into a QSR restaurant to take advantage of a localized promotional offer. Having this level of location-specific visibility not only helps brands understand which consumer behaviors they’re able to influence with their TV advertising, but also in which markets they should continue investing (and which they shouldn’t).
4. TV Will Introduce Brand And Ad Viewability Standards Before Digital Channels
Unified viewability standards have been regarded as somewhat of the “Holy Grail” of digital metrics, not just in TV but across channels. One major obstacle to getting there is coming to an agreement on how the advertising industry as a whole defines whether a brand’s logo or other promotion is visible and legible on screen. There are many variables at play here: time on screen, distance from viewer (which affects its size), resolution and so on. The second obstacle is nailing the metrics that will measure viewability. The good news is that we already have the technology, and TV (more than any other medium) is tackling this issue head-on since sponsorship dollars are an important revenue stream. Once these standards are put into action, TV’s understanding of performance will swiftly move beyond the broad, viewership-based model, making it more and more competitive with digital channels. And for the first time ever, TV will be in a position to influence how digital channels are measured.
5. We’re Finally Entering The Long-Rumored World Of Data Without Barriers
Marketing is nearing the end of an era characterized by lots of data but little focus and control. One of the many things marketers have learned going from having too little data to too much is that in order for data to be flexible and actionable, it must transcend silos. This means that data must flow freely between social, digital and TV, rather than being used to describe activity happening only within each of these channels. I don’t think there is a marketer or technologist out there that doesn’t agree with this, but we have yet to widely realize a world where marketing data has no barriers. Once we get there, advertisers will understand the performance of their entire holistic ecosystems, not just of their individual marketing channels.
I predict it will not be long before TV analytics finally go digital, allowing brands and advertisers to engage in the same types of real-time strategies across target audiences that they do on digital channels. Digital channels will welcome this open door, as it will allow them to better map audience journeys — and vice versa.