Madison avenue seeks quantifiable TV ratings

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Every week it seems i read at least one article in the trades trumpeting interactive television as the cure for all of our TV cost-per-thousand woes. As I scan these reports, I wonder when our industry's fascination with this new technology will awaken to the reality that iTV's respondent data will be, at the outset, even less reliable than the Nielsen Media Research numbers. The ongoing controversy surrounding the accuracy of the methodologies in Internet ad-serving and measurement foreshadows similarly inaccurate metrics that will accompany the rollout of interactive television technologies.

In November at the big iTV industry confab, the Western Show 2000, I spent my days discussing iTV's future role with many of the architects of interactive television. Even though their efforts are well placed-and consistent with the development of any emerging technology-the positive change they're striving to achieve probably is still many years away.


ITV companies, including ACTV, RespondTV and Wink Communications, in addition to fulfilling their reporting obligations to the advertiser, are beholden to their shareholders, stakeholders and business partners.

In other words, when consumers click on that "Domino's Pizza" enhancement (the interactive portion of an iTV ad), the respondent data will travel to a group of gatekeepers, such as the cable company, cable network, and the iTV application company, before reaching the advertiser. Each of these co-owners in the digital transaction say they plan to use and store digital respondent data in their own data warehouses.

In addition, your non-personally identifiable campaign data also will be crunched at the gatekeeper level using the iTV enhancement provider's own metrics.

If you have ever taken an iTV pitch, you've probably been presented with everything from t-commerce (TV-commerce), TV portal ads, enhanced advertising (commercials with interactive components) and targeted TV commercials to electronic program guides. In addition, some iTV applications probably also are telling you they can tie your campaign to an Internet targeting strategy by profiling at least two different information appliances in the same consumer home.

Multiply the above-mentioned application choices by the different metrics each will possess, then add the different geographic regions controlled by different cable TV providers. The fractured picture that emerges is an environment in which everyone involved in the distribution of the ad will be pushing and pulling the data, each wanting a piece of that transaction pie.

What's the result? Overlapping footprints of data collection and data warehouses. If you do get the "click" back intact through this digital maze, then each gatekeeper most likely will be churning out different usage metrics and profiles on each "targeted" consumer home. How will today's media specialists ever create a meaningful interactive TV media plan for nationally and/or regionally distributed ads over the next three to five years? It's simple: They won't.

Looking at the development of other similar technological innovations, one can guess that a period of consolidation also will beset the iTV industry. But even with only the strongest surviving, the sheer volume of respondent data still will pose a dilemma for those charged with qualifying the performance of interactive TV buys.

Nielsen/NetRatings will claim that it is a successful third-party tool in tracking the online ad space, and the company further claims that this discipline will be transferable to the iTV space. NetRatings has compiled a panel of more than 70,000 Internet users, and the company collects the panel's real-time Internet usage data for analysis.

NetRatings says its third-party reported usage figures puts some Web-site delivery figures at 30% to 60% below what some Web publishers are reporting to advertisers. Advertisers, while benefiting from the measurement company's usage reports, do complain that due to the limited size of the consumer panel, the agencies are not given deep enough metric figures to develop any meaningful targeting parameters. Ironically, NetRatings partner Nielsen Media Research-which today cannot provide the sufficient panel numbers needed to determine accurate ratings information for local cable markets-is the only third-party research company I am aware of that is developing iTV usage metrics and a TV/Internet convergence panel.

While Madison Avenue thirsts for quantifiable TV ratings, for the near future, data silos will block our view of the promised digital land. A few of them will be linked by strategic partnerships, but none will give researchers and planners the clear path needed to develop an effective and all-encompassing iTV media plan. New metrics eventually will emerge. In the long term, the interactive TV industry shows great promise, although today it is shaping up to be an imperfect digital world.

Michael Kokernak, president-CEO of traditional and interactive media agency Backchannelmedia, can be reached at

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