Friday, April 16, 2010

As Screens Abound, Monitoring is Critical

Don’t believe the hype that TV is in decline. Recent research reiterates people’s engagement with TV content is stronger than ever, and many homes claim they watch more content than ever before. Why? Because they can.

Technology continues to make more content available with more flexibility. PVR penetration continues to increase, and this will accelerate with the launch this week of Internet-based FetchTV. ninemsn’s FIXPlay video player has also launched and Internet enabled TV’s are here too.

More platforms will launch increasing people’s ability to engage with TV content. And that’s a key issue for our industry – how are we going to meaningfully capture this new viewing behavior? Yes, the traditional free-to-air TV bucket is leaking eyeballs, but they aren’t going down the drain, they’re leaking into different buckets that we need to identify and capture, soon.

The measurement of TV viewing took a giant leap forward this year with the measurement of time shifted viewing and the FTA digital channels. The panel is now more representative of homes with PVR technology. But it’s not enough.

Our industry needs to figure out how we are going to capture in-home and portable viewing across all three screens (TV, computer and mobile) with a meaningful and consistent currency. And we’ll probably have a fourth screen to deal with soon as Apple’s iPad and its clones take hold.

If you think this type of viewing is too small to worry about in the short term, think again. In a recent TV viewing study that Starcom conducted with Network Ten in November, one third of 16-54 year olds said they watched TV programs accessed over the internet. More specifically, 20% of 16-54s stream TV programs over the internet, 15% download and save the programs, and 11% watch programs downloaded by others.

In terms of the three screens, 87% of people who downloaded are watching or streaming on computers, 23% are watching on TV and 7% are watching or streaming on mobile phones. Sixteen per cent of these people are watching on more than one device.

That’s a lot of viewing not currently being captured. And it’s only going to increase as more content becomes available and download speeds increase. It’s time to start evolving our TV and digital measurement currencies now. We need a people-centric or content-centric approach that captures all viewers as TV content is remediated through different platforms. And we need to understand the varying impact and engagement of viewing on different platforms – does a smaller screen necessarily result in lower engagement, and if so what impact should that have on pricing? Yes, it’s a complex issue, and it will most likely require a hybrid approach, but that’s no excuse for not starting to test potential solutions now.

It makes sense for TV ratings supplier OzTAM to take the lead on this issue. OzTAM CEO Kate Inglis-Clarke agreed this week that this was the next major issue being investigated, and that preliminary work was being done by its ratings supplier AGB/NMR on how this viewing might be captured and when the viewing was sufficient enough to justify the costs associated.

The issue is a priority for both the Media Federation of Australia and the Australian Association of National Advertisers, and both will commit the necessary resources to work with the media companies and research providers to address it. But it’s going to take time. The sooner we get started the sooner we can better understand what’s really happening with all types of viewing. There may be an additional cost, but it’s a cost we can’t afford to ignore.

Written for Fairfax, published in SMH April 16

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