Opportunities abound, commitments not so much
Speaking during the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement Summit last month, NBCU’s Chief Business Officer Krishan Bhatia estimated that a third of the media giant’s business (outside of the upfronts) is already transacted on currencies that are not Nielsen-based.
Discovery’s U.S. ad sales chief Jon Steinlauf predicts 5% to 10% of the total estimated $25 billion in deals done in the coming upfront—not counting streaming—could be written with currencies other than Nielsen, with the percentage increasing when streaming is added.
But while big agencies are all in on testing, it seems they’re not committed to writing deals with alternative currencies. Omnicom Media Group has six clients lined up to test alternatives in advance of the upfront, said Kelly Metz, managing director of advanced TV. Among them are State Farm and AT&T, which are participating in a test of VideoAmp and Comscore with Discovery.
But OMG made it clear that clients are making no commitments to do deals in them yet.
Bharad Ramesh, executive director of research and investment analytics at WPP’s GroupM, likewise isn’t making such commitments. “We are running trials, and we will make a decision in due course in consultation with our clients on whether we want to use an alternate currency to trade,” he said.
Dentsu U.S. does expect to do some upfront deals using VideoAmp data this year, as it has in prior upfronts, said Cara Lewis, head of U.S. media investment. The agency is currently testing VideoAmp with several clients.
“In the upfront, there will definitely be clients who trade on alternative measurement,” Lewis said. “There are some who are ready to go. They’re invested and they’ve been trying different things for years.”
“Percentage-wise, I can’t really put a number on it, because I don’t know what’s going to come out of these tests, but I would think, yes, we’re going to have a decent amount on Nielsen [in the coming upfront] but we’re not going to be 100% Nielsen,” Lewis said.
Horizon Media expects 10% to 15% of its upfront deals this year to be done on alternative currencies, said Dave Campanelli, chief investment officer, who goes further than others in his projections.
Buyers, he said, “have to all get comfortable that we are not going to be on a single currency. Maybe that’s somewhat temporary until all this shakes out and Nielsen gets its act together with Nielsen One, and then one of the others will arise as a good second.”
Hodgepodge of options
One issue is that trading on alternative currencies comes with a hodgepodge of menu options, and more choice isn’t necessarily better in a market that demands consistency. Different networks and media holding companies have offered different sets of alternate currencies, though the primary ones at this point appear to be Comscore, VideoAmp and iSpot, according to several agency executives. And each of these have a different approach.
VideoAmp and Paramount are looking to deliver bigger audience numbers than Nielsen does and are heavily focused on linear TV, an agency buyer said. NBC with iSpot is looking “more holistically across screens,” the buyer said, “and while I’m sure NBC would like to see bigger numbers, their goal is really how to be fluid across screens.”
“The networks are coming to us and saying they want to test, but we also don’t buy just that network set,” Dentsu’s Lewis said. “We also want to see the full landscape.”
Thus, among several tests Dentsu is involved with, some include using alternative measurement across a single network group, while others involve looking at what several clients bought across the whole landscape, she said.
Those tests don’t necessarily apply to live campaigns, and are instead being applied after a campaign runs to see what would have happened if they used alternative currencies rather than Nielsen for the buy.
Certainly, advertisers have been utilizing other forms of measurement outside of Nielsen for so-called secondary guarantees for some time. Essentially this is when a deal is struck based on an Nielsen demographic guarantee but a portion of the buy is also measured against another audience segment, like those in the market for a new vehicle or parents of newborns.
These so-called “secondary guarantees” are what Nielsen CEO David Kenny said in a Feb. 28 earnings call are most likely to be handled by alternative providers. But he said agency investment managers and big advertisers have told him their main “fiduciary responsibility” is to maximize investment against a relatively stable audience while avoiding the risk of double counting.
“I think there is a frustration with paying more for less in some of the traditional linear business, so they’re looking for that leverage,” Kenny said. “That’s why I believe they’re still going to want that single base case of what’s going on in that market.”
But Horizon’s Campanelli, who projects doing 10% to 15% of this year’s deals on Nielsen alternatives, said those will go beyond mere secondary guarantees. “What we’re talking about here is instead of doing a deal on Nielsen 18-49, it would be VideoAmp or iSpot or one of the other alternatives,” he said. “So it is sort of a step back to take a step forward.”
Writing deals with advanced targets or custom audiences using Nielsen panel ratings are “tough because Nielsen’s base is so small,” Campanelli said. “VideoAmp and Comscore have tens of millions of households you are matching on. This temporary step back could lead to better advanced targets.”
Nielsen One’s ‘trial’
Kenny also noted during its earnings call that Nielsen has made data available from the alpha version of its own under-development Nielsen One service, which co-mingles data from set-top boxes and smart TVs with its panel, to all the major agency holding companies in advance of the current upfront.
The trade group the Video Advertising Bureau took issue with the release of these numbers. Even though Kenny also said Nielsen One isn’t expected to play a role as a currency until the 2024 upfront, the VAB sees the wide release of numbers from the big data sets that will feed Nielsen One akin the Nielsen trying to offer its own alternative currency in the 2022 upfronts.
“Nielsen’s launch of big data into national TV this September will be offered in parallel to our existing measurement currency,” according to a Nielsen statement. That move came in response to clients’ feedback. “This will enable buyers and sellers to trade against big data plus panel metrics, while giving our clients runway to adapt” to the Nielsen One launch in advance.
But the VAB called foul on Nielsen offering two data sets as currency in the upfronts in a March 7 letter to Kenny, particularly given some seemingly inexplicable inconsistencies between them.
“We’re in an era of multiple currencies, but that wasn’t meant to imply two data streams to be used as currency from one provider,” said VAB CEO Sean Cunningham, “because it sets up the challenge of knowing which is the truth set.”
No networks so far have offered to accept Nielsen’s alternative data as currency in this upfront, and executives of two agency groups said they have no intention of asking for it to be used.