As TV networks race to find a new yardstick to measure modern video audiences, one top buyer of commercial time says it’s already waiting at the finish line.
Horizon Media, an independent Madison Avenue media agency that works for big-spending clients like Berkshire Hathaway’s Geico and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Corona, said it intends to commit “up to 15% of its deals” in the industry’s coming upfront market using new measurement currencies that don’t rely on the sector’s longtime tabulator of audiences, Nielsen. Horizon issued a request for information to various media companies in the fourth quarter of 2021, and expects to work “with media entities including Paramount, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. Discovery, AMC Networks, as well as Allen Media Group and several other minority-owned and targeted companies, on collective solutions,” the company said in a statement.
Horizon will continue to use Nielsen measures, but also intends to incorporate “2-3 alternate currencies” as a bedrock for striking deals in the upfront, when U.S. TV networks try to sell the bulk of their commercial inventory for their next cycle of programs.
“For us, the goal is quite simple — to better measure the impact of our campaigns and the networks which contribute most to business success, versus simply measuring impression viewership,” said David Campanelli, Horizon Media’s chief investment officer, in a statement. “Without a doubt, a multi-currency ecosystem will become the new norm for transacting business, and we intend to lead that charge.”
Horizon’s move puts a spotlight on new complexities surfacing in the business of television, which for years has been graded based on Nielsen measures of how many people watched a particular piece of content. In 2022, when more people are migrating away from traditional linear TV and streaming programs at moments of their own choosing, however, those benchmarks are no longer sufficient. And while Nielsen is getting ready to introduce its own new methodology, flaws in its current technique caused it to lose industry accreditation last September, spurring TV networks to try to devise their own systems of counting viewership.
NBCUniversal, one of the most vocal of the media companies, is working with iSpot.TV, while units of the newly-merged Warner Bros. Discovery have aligned themselves with other measurement outlets like VideoAmp and Comscore. Their efforts are not guaranteed: None of the companies have been accredited by the Media Rating Council, an industry body that certifies measurement processes. Some aren’t even trying to win the organization’s sign-off.
Other big media buyers are working to hedge their bets as the industry tries to see what, if any, of the alternate measures might work. Publicis Media, for example, is currently involved in tests with NBCU of work by iSpotTV, as well as with Disney, which is involved with Nielsen as it tries to launch a new measurement system later this year. Omnicom Media Group is testing some of the new concepts being used by Warner Bros. Discovery.
Nielsen is going to stay in the mix. The new measurement currencies being offered are ultimately backed by the networks themselves, the equivalent of the student telling the teacher what grade homework should get. Many advertisers would still like an independent arbiter to sit in judgement of who’s watching their commercials. But they may not be as rigid as they have been in the past, because many are allowing Google, Facebook and other new-media venues to supply proof of effectiveness in social media and search. And there is still the lingering question of investment: Do any of the networks and any of their new partners have millions to invest in an entirely new measurement infrastructure that isn’t likely to scale industry-wide?
But that isn’t keeping media buyers and their clients from exploring new frontiers. “We need to understand the nuances of new measurement sources and also how that will impact how we transact moving forward,” said Samantha Rose, senior vice president of strategic investment at Horizon. The company is already at work with Paramount Global.