OPINION22 October 2015

All data great and small


Hybrid TV audience measurement approaches could be the answer to understanding and measuring multiple device viewing. Richard Asquith at Kantar Media explains.

Panels and TV people-meters have and continue to deliver gold-standard TV audience measurement for more than 30 years. But TV – in the widest sense of the word – is changing, and audience measurement needs to evolve with it.

There are now more than half a billion ‘connected TV devices’ – i.e. smart TVs; connected set-top boxes, games consoles and Blu-ray players; and streaming media devices – worldwide. That’s on top of the more than a billion smartphones that have been sold since 2007 and the 665m tablets that Gartner expects to be in use by 2016.

Assessing what people watch through these devices is made more challenging as some device operating systems limit the measurement software we can deploy. And research participants are generally less compliant than they were 10 years ago. There’s too much competition for people’s time. It’s a continual challenge and an evolving process to maintain a compliant and representative panel.

Thankfully a number of solutions have emerged over the past decade that give us non-intrusive, passive (and in some cases massive) datasets to work with. These include Return Path Data from TV set-top boxes and server census data from broadcasters’ online players.

Return Path Data provides us with accurate information about what content is being requested and delivered through the set top box. The challenge is understanding who is watching, or indeed if no-one is watching should the device be left on with the TV turned off.

Over the past 10 years we’ve been working closely with large pay-TV operators such as Astro in Malaysia, DSTV-I in South Africa and Sky Deutschland, using this kind of data to deliver insight into their subscribers’ viewing behaviour.

Return Path Data also enables us to determine the types of viewing occurring. With Astro in Malaysia we are tracking whether viewers are watching linear channels, time-shift, VOD or using interactive TV.

The second major new source of data is census data from broadcasters’ web players, the information captured by their servers on streaming and downloading/playback of content. Again, this is data from devices not people and it provides a window into a new world of viewing.  In the UK, BARB recently launched the beta version of its TV Player Report for this very purpose using data generated from software code that has been developed by us and implemented by broadcasters.

But while all the new large-scale, passive data provides important additional information about viewers’ behaviour, what’s really exciting is a fully hybrid approach: bringing together these data sources with panel measurement to produce an enhanced, total TV viewing currency.

Hybrid audience measurement systems take the best of both worlds. Panels provide a representative and independent measure of what individuals are doing/watching and the duplication of activity across different devices and media. Then it combines this with the large, frequently device-level, behavioural data sets (census data) to provide accurate volume estimates, at a more granular level as audiences fragment and use multiple devices to access content.

Combined with increasingly sophisticated mathematical algorithms, and, importantly, growing acceptance by the TV industry, the new hybrid approaches represent an exciting future for audience measurement.

SKO, the TV and Video JIC in the Netherlands, is working with us and our partners to deliver just that: a total video rating.  BARB in the UK is forging ahead with a major proof of concept initiative.  We expect hybrid systems to become an increasingly important component of the measurement systems we use in more than 40 countries in which we provide the TV ratings currency.

The evolution of TV has created major challenges for research providers.  With the increasing adoption of behavioural data and hybrid systems, we’re getting there.

Richard Asquith is global CEO audience intelligence at Kantar Media