Measuring media during a pandemic

Measuring media during a pandemic

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ABC’s chief executive Simon Redlich looks at the impressive ways publishers have responded to the COVID-19 restrictions and how ABC is working with them to ensure industry standard data remains available to buyers – even in exceptional times

Some said the deserted streets of our country in lockdown reminded them of an apocalyptic movie. Others saw it as peaceful, a respite for nature. For the media industry, the empty streets had other implications; an overnight shift in consumer behaviour.

Big changes

For publishers whose traditional routes to market were impacted instantly, the need for fast and effective solutions was paramount.  Their speed and ingenuity of response has been impressive, enabling many readers to keep accessing the news and quality content they trust at a time when it’s arguably been more important than ever.

A PPA members survey in May found that, since the start of lockdown, 54% of publishers had launched new digital events, and 69% had introduced other digital products or services. For many this has been accompanied by significant growth in subscriptions, with Magnetic sharing publisher reports of year on year increases up to 278%. It’ll be interesting to see these behaviour changes reflected in our consumer magazine data due out in August.

Constant measurement when it’s ‘all change’

Amongst the seismic changes, many core needs within the industry have remained constant. One of these being the need for trustworthy media measurement.  Agencies have continued to require the details behind how media is delivered to market, particularly with new distribution strategies being employed, so they can understand the changes and how to promote them positively to clients.

Anthony Gibson-Watt, Investment Director at Zenith, told us, “It’s even more paramount in these strange times that we work in partnership with publishers, to better understand how they’re responding to the crisis and how we can support each other. Audited data is an important part of this relationship as it underpins trust and clear communication. Ultimately we’re all in this together.”

There were fears earlier in the year, as outlined in David Pidgeon’s insightful report, that the disruption caused by lockdown might become a ‘lost quarter’ for trusted media measurement.

The good news is that we’ve been able to continue measuring published media consistently. One reason for this is the unique methodology of ABC measurement. Our census based reporting measures how media gets to market (and the quantities involved) by auditing data supplied to us by publishers. As a result we’ve swiftly been able to adapt, ensuring audits get completed and publishers are able to share their ABC figures.

In March as well as initiating ‘COVID-19’ certificates for all sectors, we quickly put in place temporary reporting changes that supported publishers as they switched or adapted their routes to market.

Many publishers have made use of this during this period of intense change. Here are just a few examples.

Bringing it home

Prior to COVID-19, the distribution strategy for free papers relied on commuter hotspots.

As lockdown arrived, the Evening Standard announced its Home Delivery Service just a day after Boris told the UK to ‘stay at home’. ABC has long had standards in place for letterbox distribution, so we were able to quickly make these available to all sectors.

The rise of digital editions

The answer for other publishers lay in digital editions, with many launching them for the first time or expanding their offering in response to the crisis. To support this, we made temporary changes that give publishers more reporting flexibility whilst ensuring data is reported to the same high standards.

The Sunday Post is a good example. Prior to COVID-19, the paid-for digital edition was a small part of its offering and these copies weren’t claimed through ABC. When lockdown arrived, publishers DC Thomson Media made The Sunday Post digital edition free of charge so it could be available to more readers.

This resulted in a surge in digital edition activity, which the publisher wanted to report in their next ABC certificate. They were able to do so using one of the temporary rules we’d put in place, opting to use the ABC metric ‘Publication Active Views’ (PAVS) – defined as ‘a single copy of a publication actively opened by a device for viewing’.

PAVs are valued by agencies as indicative of active engagement. Unsurprisingly, many publishers are reporting that the number of readers now accessing digital editions has massively increased. For example, the Daily Mail reported in May that their PAV figures have more than doubled since the start of lockdown.

Finding trusted partners

One challenge publishers faced when switching to digital editions was how to distribute copies. Many have partnered with new digital platforms, suppliers or publishing solutions to fulfil delivery.

To help reporting, we pointed publishers to platforms on our Certified Suppliers list. Our Certified Suppliers have undertaken a robust audit process that confirms their systems are capable of providing data compliant with ABC’s standards. When auditing we’re able to place reliance on these suppliers’ systems, which makes it simpler and more cost-effective to report copies. The benefits of this scheme are increasingly recognised, and we were pleased to welcome Apple News+ as a Certified Supplier in May.

Back to ‘normal’

Despite the impressive adaptability of publishers, this remains a critical time for the industry and ad spend forecasts have been bleak for 2020. Although things will be different post COVID-19, we’re ready to report any short term periods that help publishers get their figures into the market quickly as we return to some semblance of normality.

The need for trust is a constant

As an industry body serving publishers large and small, we’ve seen many ingenious responses to the immense challenges posed by the pandemic. In these uncertain times, we hope publishers, their agencies and advertisers can rely on one constant; that however publishers are delivering their content, we’ll work with them to measure it in a transparent and trusted way using consistent metrics.

As one thankful publisher member put it, “During a worrying time, it’s one less imponderable.”

Please visit the ABC Coronavirus statement and information page for the latest standards updates relating to COVID-19.

Simon Redlich is CEO at ABC

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