Hoping to help TV advertisers understand how commercials on TV and various digital platforms drive consumer behavior and marketing results, the two parties are working to develop a new audience-measurement model that will stretch across online, mobile and other emerging media.
That type of measurement is "somewhat of a Holy Grail, and this is our first shot at it," said Jon Mandel, CEO of NielsenConnect, Nielsen's information-and-insights unit. Advertisers want to know not only "how does my media drive sales," he said, but also how altering the media mix within a particular outlet can change the effectiveness of ads.
First goal: monitor and measure
The initial goal is to monitor audiences and measure reaction. Nielsen will deploy its new TV/Internet Convergence Panel, a sample of households that will help measure TV and internet use in the same home. The system will also link research from Nielsen Mobile and other sources. The panel aims to measure the impact of TV promotions in driving people to the internet and of web promotions driving people to ESPN programs, and examine new kinds of media use, such as viewing TV and web-streamed content at the same time.
Media executives have already noticed shortcomings in the way their content is measured and have taken actions to improve the process. NBC, for example, has devised a system that measures the total audience of a program, such as "Heroes," for example, so that advertisers might understand the degree to which an episode is seen by web viewers and downloaders as well as the more traditional couch potato.
At ESPN, the thinking is that first steps toward a better system need to be taken. "We don't see a solution any time soon where we're going to be able to provide our clients with a definitive measure of how we reach people through TV, the internet and mobile on an unduplicated basis, so we are going to have to come up with some sort of scheme that allows us to estimate that with some level of dependability and confidence," said Artie Bulgrin, ESPN's senior VP-research and sales development.
The system should eventually give ESPN -- and other media outlets, presumably -- the ability to measure unduplicated audience reach of its properties, measure the overlap across the different media and break down demographic and market composition of audiences.
Demand for such stats is not going to slacken, said Ed Erhardt, president-customer marketing and sales for ESPN and ABC Sports. "Advertisers are demanding and asking their agencies to provide solutions that match up with how their brand is consumed, how their media is delivered and how their advertising is created and then placed," he said.