FEATURE9 March 2010

ComScore spells out TV audience measurement plan

News North America

ComScore’s expansion from web audience measurement to TV audience measurement may come as a surprise to some, but the firm says it has always been on the cards.

ComScore announced last week that it had hired former Arbitron exec Joan Fitzgerald to lead the expansion of its services to cover three-screen viewing – TV, mobile and internet – and will use its internet measurement approach as the basis for its new service.

Chairman Gian Fulgoni said: “When we built the technology platform that we use for internet and mobile it was built to be massively scalable and flexible with a view to being able to handle any of the digital data that would become available, so we were anticipating the availability of TV data.”

The data will not only be compatible with the firm’s existing technology, but will produce the same sort of end product, Fulgoni said. “One of things that is interesting about digital data rather than broadcast data is that in many ways it resembles what an internet browsing database looks like. You can basically assemble a database that has second-by-second or even more frequent viewing data or channel status data along with the knowledge of when the ad was delivered, which is really not possible in broadcast TV. You’ve got to add the demographics of who is sitting in front of the TV set but when you put all that together its remarkably similar to the challenge we faced and solved for the internet.”

Fitzgerald said that ComScore hopes to release some pilot data by the end of the year, if clients are willing to share. In the meantime, Fitzgerald will focus on the methodology that ComScore will use to collect digital TV audience data, and said that it will be based on the firm’s internet measurement process.

She said: ”As researchers, what we see is that there is value in both the census and panel-type approaches [to audience measurement] and what ComScore did in the internet space is combine the two into the Media Metrix 360 product. We’re going to be taking the same approach for television.”

The firm is currently looking at sources of panel-based information to merge with census-type data, such as information collected from set-top boxes, Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald explained that the firm’s decision to enter the TV audience measurement market was driven by demand from clients and media companies who are “taking integrated marketing more seriously than they ever have done before” and “demanding better information about how well their campaigns are performing”.

Looking ahead, she said that future measurement solutions will have to evolve to keep up with the advancements in digital TV advertising. “We’re going to need much more relevant measurement solutions to measure the different types of advertising that are going to be available,” she said, “In the large part a lot of it isn’t going to be advertising as we know it, some of it will be a banner at the bottom of a screen that a user can click to vote or buy something and those applications are fast becoming a reality. That’s the vision for 2011 and beyond. This is just a starting point.”

As with any company entering the TV measurement business, ComScore may soon find itself in competition with Nielsen. Fulgoni admits that this is one eventuality, though it is not something that he sees on the immediate horizon.

He said: “I don’t think we will [compete] in terms of the ratings business for some time. As these [set-top box] databases emerge they are not necessarily nationally representative the way that users of ratings data are used to. But what will happen we think is that a market for analysis and media planning applications and media analysis will emerge, even though the databases that will be feeding those applications will not necessarily be nationally representative in scope.

“Down the road, as more and more data becomes available at some point the digital data will be viewed as a substitute to having to build a custom panel as Nielsen does – but that’s way off into the future. The best way to answer this is to say that we don’t anticipate competing in the near term with the Nielsen ratings product.”