Going beyond ‘viewable impressions’

Going beyond ‘viewable impressions’

The design of Route’s currency for out-of-home presents an important challenge for cross-media measurement.

The current focus on cross-platform video measurement has as its core building block the Media Rating Council’s definition of a viewable impression.

Much as broadcasters are questioning the relevance of a two-second threshold for “viewable impressions”, its relevance for digital out-of-home (DOOH) is also being challenged.

In recent years Route has evolved OOH measurement to move beyond viewable impressions, or “Opportunity To See” to effectively bake measures of attention into the metrics used for planning and trading.

In this context, and coinciding with the latest release of Route data, it’s important to get a deeper understanding of how Route actually works, and in particular how the currency turns impressions into impacts.

The way that Route has evolved has important implications, not just for cross-media measurement but also potentially for how other currencies could develop going forward.

To reassure you that this article is not a deep dive for methodology geeks, let me start with a confession. Non-industry friends who have a vague understanding of what I do sometimes ask me “how do they know what I am watching?” or indeed listening and reading.

I’m usually able to give a layman’s description involving variously meters, diaries and mastheads, but when it comes to “but how do they measure Out of Home?” my response is usually to say “it’s complicated” and to quickly change the topic.

This is despite over 30 years in the UK media research business. I suspect I am not alone, as Out of Home research has been seen of something of a specialism within what is already a specialised area.

So, thanks are due to Denise, Euan and the Route team for fielding my questions about how Route actually works.

Impressions and impacts

Any article which mentions impressions and impacts usually prompts a heated debate in the comments section below about what exactly is meant by an impression and an impact.

So let me clarify what I mean for the purposes of this article: by “impression” I mean an advertisement successfully delivered to a screen/audio receiver/page or panel: effectively an opportunity to see.

By “impact” I mean a verified measure of who (and how many) actually sees or hears that advertisement.

By converting impressions into impacts, Route is effectively a currency that has successfully integrated actual attention to the screen or site into the metrics by which Out of Home is bought and sold.

The Route recipe

I said that Route is “complicated”, but really it’s a recipe made from key ingredients that combine to verify who and how many are in front of each of around 400,000 sites including over 15,000 digital screens and to update those estimates on a regular basis.

It uses granular data on the visibility of each site, taking into account the size and position of the site and the direction and angles of travel of passers-by.

Modelling combines this with big data in terms of footfall, survey data from respondents carrying GPS devices and attention studies, marrying the visibility of the site with eye tracking and direction of travel.

During the pandemic hiatus Route took the opportunity to further fine tune the methodology by further including the contribution of speed of travel to likelihood and duration of impact. This revealed that it’s not just about how long people are within view of the site but their attentiveness.

Often people walking fast are paying more attention to their environment than those sauntering down the high street looking at their mobile phone.

Put simply, this combines to deliver a probability of respondents seeing each site, split by demographics, by daypart and day of week. This is further broken out by months of the year to take account of seasonal variations, particularly important for obvious reasons.

To see or not to see?

It’s important to highlight that Route includes probabilistic data within its calculation of impacts. These account for the likelihood of people taking journeys through the visibility areas for posters and screens (the inventory) and a “visibility adjustment” factor which is applied to each exposure to an ad based on the paths taken through the area.

This is one area in which Route could prove a useful pointer to the future of how currencies calculate audiences.

A pure advertising medium

Out of Home measurement is able to go down this route (forgive the pun) because it is a pure advertising medium.

The other industry currencies (with the exception of JICMAIL) need to measure content as well as advertising, because content owners want to understand how their content is working and also because the assumption is that premium quality content adds value to the advertising that accompanies it.

Route is measuring advertising with no assumed presenter effect. Sure, we can argue whether a digital panel on the side of a Victorian town hall might have some aesthetic benefit over one on the side of an office block but it’s unlikely.

What this means is that a realistic measure of attention can be factored into Route without any need for a debate about attention to the ad vs attention to the programme.

Trading on attention

Attention has become a hot topic for media measurement in the pages of The Media Leader and at Adwanted Events in recent years.

The Attention Council has come together to promote the importance of attention, but I fear that the argument has become a bit blurred between the ability of a medium to deliver an attentive audience and attention to the ad itself.

I can see how the former could be factored into a currency – as indeed it is with Route – but attention to a specific ad is all about that ad creative itself.

If media owners were only paid for the audience who actually paid attention to an ad, then that would effectively de-risk media planning and insure against poor creative.

I’d argue that it is the mission of an advertising medium to deliver an accurate measure of the potential audience to a screen, radio, page or site at any given time and that is what should be traded.

The ability of the ad creative to then attract and keep the attention is within the realm of copy testing research, not currency measurement.

From screens to people

So at heart what Route is delivering is the ability of each of site or screen around the country to deliver a quantified attentive audience: from impressions to impacts, from “Opportunity To See” to “Likelihood To See”. All of which leaves me with two questions:

Firstly, with the work of The Attention Council gaining traction, can Route give some clues as to how other currencies might factor attention into the measurement of their own type of media?

Meanwhile, how will cross-media measurement factor in currencies like Route that have moved far beyond simple minimum viewable durations to allow the advertising eco-system to plan and trade on actual impacts?

Richard Marks is director at Research The Media.

Adwanted UK is the trusted delivery partner for three essential services which deliver accountability, standardisation, and audience data for the out-of-home industry. Playout is Outsmart’s new system to centralise and standardise playout reporting data across all outdoor media owners in the UK. SPACE is the industry’s comprehensive inventory database delivered through a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart. The RouteAPI is a SaaS solution which delivers the ooh industry’s audience data quickly and simply into clients’ systems. Contact us for more information on SPACE, J-ET, Audiotrack or our data engines.

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