When It Comes To How People Watch TV, Advertisers Are Still In The Dark

It’s never been harder for advertisers to understand what their television dollars are actually buying them.

In recent years, a sea change in media consumption has made the already difficult task of measuring TV ad performance even more complex. Brands and agencies have always had a daunting challenge in determining the exact size of their audience, the frequency with which they’re seeing their ads, and what was leading to conversions, but now the ‘level of difficulty’ score has risen considerably.

Once upon a time, there was one screen people looked at when watching television, and advertisers presumed that their ads were reaching their intended target. Now, viewers watch television when and wherever they want, across a range of devices, access methods, services and applications. Consumers are cutting the cord, and even traditional “bunny ears” antennas are making a comeback. In order to find their audiences, and maximize their ROI, the TV advertising ecosystem is quickly adopting a greater array of technologies and solutions, concerning themselves with advertising via the bevvy of advanced, addressable and connected TV options out there

It’s no wonder that, according to eMarketer, 42% of TV marketers list measurement as their biggest challenge when it comes to cross-screen video, considering the growing complexity. Happily we are seeing innovations in this space, as well. Attribution providers like Data Plus Math are helping advertisers tie back their TV spend to actual purchases; and measurement veterans comScore and Nielsen are focusing on cross-device problems.

However, no matter how an ad gets to an audience’s TV screen, there is another, more urgent TV measurement problem that supersedes these concerns and applies to all TV advertising - marketers don't know how people actually watch TV when their ads run.

Some of our industry’s recent innovations improve our ability to get our ads onto the TV screens of our target audiences, but understanding what is actually happening in homes is critical to understanding how TV advertising actually works - so strategies can be optimized accordingly. Are people on the couch or in the kitchen cooking dinner? Are they alone, or with friends? Laser focused on the TV or multi-tasking?

At any moment, viewers are likely to miss ads entirely while they’re going about their lives. TV is a passive medium, as opposed to digital which is a more active medium, and so understanding how people actually watch TV is critical to maximizing the opportunity the medium provides. Every factor matters, including program, daypart, network, ad pod, and day of week.

When you don’t know how, or if, people are watching your ads, there’s no way of knowing whether those ads were actually effective — or how you could have spent your budget more efficiently. Certainly, you’re not going to boost sales with an ad that runs while your target customer is in another room.

To understand, and solve for these issues, marketers need better metrics that inform advertising performance. Data has to be gathered person-by-person, second-by-second - to ensure marketers have a useful view at the audience and campaign level. What aired on TV is no longer enough. In a world where TV content consumption continues to evolve, understanding who was in the room, and how they were watching TV is more important than ever.

In short, the black box of TV advertising and measurement is only getting more complicated and more opaque, and it’s condemning brands to suboptimal impressions and suboptimal performance. This year alone, marketers will spend $79 billion on TV ads. Shouldn’t you know what that money actually buys you?
The Auto TV Performance Report
The Auto TV Performance Report