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The tyranny of choice: beware a world with multiple standards

The tyranny of choice: beware a world with multiple standards

Barb is considering a move to second-by-second reporting as the standard for UK TV audience measurement, reveals CEO Justin Sampson.

How often have we heard about a lack of standards in online media measurement? Most recently, an IAB survey last month pointed to this being the biggest barrier to investment in retail media.

Back in April, Tom George outlined Origin’s plan to deliver a system that potentially allows boundless configurability as data are surfaced in a variety of ways. Putting to one side the practicalities of providing boundless configurability, this reminds me of the tyranny of choice.

It’s not a new concept. Logic suggests more choice allows people to select precisely what makes them happiest. Yet studies consistently show abundant choice often makes for misery.

In Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay often starts to rescue a restaurant by telling the owners to simplify the menu. Perhaps unknowingly — and certainly with more straightforward language — Ramsay is applying the thinking of Barry Schwartz, an American psychologist.

In Schwartz’s 2004 book — The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less — he describes a study in which shoppers were more attracted to a display table with 24 varieties of gourmet jam than a table with just six. Yet the shoppers with more choice were one-tenth as likely to buy as those faced with just six options.

What’s this got to do with audience-measurement standards?

Businesses spend up to £7bn each year advertising on linear channels, VOD and video-sharing services. Barb’s viewing data underpins the day-to-day decisions on where to allocate the vast majority of this investment and how to account for its effectiveness.

Our industry’s collective experience points to the importance of comparable data throughout the planning and buying process. Earlier this year at Signals In The Noise, an IPA event, Rhian Feather of OMD said: “when we compare apples with pears, we fail to make sense — joint-industry currencies simplify the complex, helping us create and validate successful strategies”.

And comparability is really tough in the face of a multitude of metrics. It takes time and resource to distil complex data into a narrative that supports investment accountability. Conversely, fewer metrics lead to a better shared understanding of what’s successful — and what’s not — and improve the usability of data.

For many years, Barb has been the industry’s standard measurement for what people watch. Our audience-centric methods and reporting standards are continuously forged in the fire of joint-industry consensus. I say continuously as our on-going programme of innovation is designed to ensure we live up to evolving expectations of our industry’s standard.

Groundbreaking innovation has extended our definition of total viewing to include the streamers, both pure-play VOD and video-sharing services; this has been the catalyst for Disney+ and Netflix signing up to join Barb.

And we’re now starting the process of evolving CFlight into a joint-industry solution for reporting total campaign performance across linear and VOD services.

Apples with apples

With more than one eye on the expectations of advertisers and agencies, Barb is committed to go even further.

Our recent industry-wide consultation again showed the need for audience measurement to transcend the business models of the content providers by focusing on the choices made by viewers. In this context, Barb can make more progress by reporting what people watch on YouTube and other video-sharing platforms.

Earlier this year, we announced our commitment to this goal with the support of our Strategy Board, which is comprised of advertisers, agencies and broadcasters. Our priorities are based on what advertisers and agencies told us in the consultation.

Advertisers want to follow audiences into any content that is safe and suitable for brands. Within this universe of brand-safe content, buyers also want to identify content which has quality levels that are consistent with linear channels and VOD services. This means content that’s brand safe, aligns with prevailing regulation and is produced with editorial oversight and accountability; we describe this content as fit-for-TV.

The need to understand editorial environment isn’t new and is enshrined in the WFA’s framework for cross-media measurement.

Yet it’s a challenging objective given the tension between the principle of transparency on editorial environments and concerns about applying subjective signals to content. Supported by Barb data, advertisers and agencies have long been able — transparently — to make subjective judgments about the quality of different types of television airtime.

Another point of tension is the lack of consensus on metrics. Put plainly, commercial broadcasters advocate 100% view-through rates while YouTube aligns with the MRC standard of at least two seconds viewed.

Time to explore change

Our Strategy Board meets again this month. On the agenda is the question of whether we move to second-by-second reporting.

One reason for considering this is the growth in on-demand viewing — this places a question mark against a methodology designed when virtually all viewing was linked to a linear schedule. The catalyst of new contracts starting in 2024 is why we’re exploring the change now.

The decision is also relevant to the delivery of single-source reporting across linear, VOD and video-sharing platforms, regardless of whether a sell-side consensus on metrics can be reached.

We can’t underestimate the implications of the change. Trading policies are likely to come under review and there would be a substantial requirement to develop industry infrastructure that supports trading. There would also be significant changes in how we distribute data and calculate campaign exposure.

To the last of these, publishing reach and frequency on the basis of 100% view-through rates is closest to Barb’s established method. Equally, there’s a precedent for Barb offering configurability at the point of analysis.

One thing we already know from our investigations is that a move to second-by-second reporting is likely to show that the vast majority of people — in the vast majority of cases — watch linear ads in their entirety. The possibility in front of us is to surface this evidence on a consistent, apples-with-apples basis for all platforms.

So there’s plenty for our Strategy Board to think about as it considers how Barb continues to innovate for the benefit of our industry.

To return to the theme, the tyranny of choice pushes us away from boundless configurability and towards the idea of a finite menu of set standards. And anyone wanting to avoid a visit from Gordon Ramsay should know the importance of keeping the menu simple.

Justin Sampson is chief executive of Barb Audiences (formerly BARB), the UK TV measurement company co-owned by the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and the IPA.

Mr Ian Dowds, CEO, UK Online Measurement (UKOM), on 05 Oct 2023
“The answer to your opening question Justin is "not so often" because UKOM is established as the UK industry standard for online audience measurement. In the Signals in the Noise whitepaper earlier this year UKOM was celebrated, along with the other JICS, by the IPA for providing the industry with data that is "trusted, accountable, robust and transparent." There may be many sources of online data out there that do not tick those boxes and contribute to the 'noise' and certainly don't always help with your excellent 'tyranny of choice' reference but there is only one industry standard for online audience measurement: UKOM”

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