It's Time To Apply Digital Video Metrics To TV Ratings

by Mark Green

Originally published in MediaPost.

The Media Ratings Council is proposing new guidelines for measuring video advertising across screens with the addition of weighting for duration. By adding seconds of duration to the measure of an interactive medium like digital, we are getting closer to rigorously measuring what we want to know. Is the viewer actually watching – or not?

As viewer distractions increase, this becomes more important.

Thanks to the MRC’s introduction of its attention standard for digital, the quality of digital inventory has helped accelerate the growth of digital video.

If we focus on duration of attention for cross-screen video, then it makes sense to do the same for the television audience. Measuring duration of "watching" TV would deliver more valuable data to networks and advertisers to improve impact. Just 10 years ago, advertisers did not have as many communication options, so there was no need to compare different ways of reaching people with video.

What Counts As "Watching" TV? 

The industry standard for measuring television currently involves active metering systems that determine when someone is in the room (via a people meter) or when data models suggest someone is in the room (via set top box and smart TV data). These systems do not observe if eyes are actually looking at the screen, let alone tracking it second-by-second like digital.

Picture how many times you go into a room, switch on the TV, watch for a few minutes, and then start doing other things in the room—whether getting a glass of water or looking at your phone. People do not continuously attend to passive media like TV. This differs from interactive media, where the user is either paying attention or the device is switched off.

Even when a viewer is actively engaged in watching television, we know that two screens are often employed at once. You could be watching CNN and decide to tweet about a news story at the same time. You are engaged with the content, but distracted by a second screen. In the age of distraction, it’s important to measure how much actual watching gets done when someone is ‘watching’ television.

Before digital, distraction was less of an issue because all TV was linear; you had to watch then and there. In addition, the internet was much less distracting before the rise of social media and the deluge of content sharing. These distractions matter today.

Discerning True Value

Changing MRC guidelines to include attention duration for video is a great step toward measuring watching on digital — and it’s time we did the same for television. Shouldn’t we put a higher value on a viewer’s attention than their proximity to a television that is switched on?

Of course, analyzing a digital screen differs from a television screen. Data giants are able to parse digital interactions to the second, while television is still judging ratings by the half-hour or hour show.

The industry agrees attention is important, but we face challenges adapting to all screens. One thing is clear: There is a big opportunity to measure viewership by how people actually watch TV in the age of distraction.

TV and CTV Attention Report
The TV and CTV Attention Report