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Three-Phase Project Aims for Data Comparable to Other Consumer Audience Metrics

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CHICAGO ( -- Advertisers’ calls for better accountability and ROI made measurement a hot topic at this week's Outdoor Advertising Association of America’s annual conference.
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Industry leaders at the Hilton Chicago Hotel predicted that within the next three to five years out-of-home advertising venues will have a system to measure marketers' return on investment comparable to or better than those of other consumer media, thanks to a move from “opportunity to see” data to “likelihood to see” data.

Gross assumptions
“Every media’s metrics and audience data is based on the opportunity to see and act,” said Joe Philport, president-CEO of the Traffic Audit Bureau (TAB), an out-of-home measurement organization. “And they’re gross assumptions that if you’re watching a TV program you’re standing around and watching the ads. Or gross assumptions that if you’re listening to radio when an ad comes on you’re not switching the channel. And there are gross assumptions in out of home that if you’re driving by a billboard you actually notice the ad.”

TAB, which made its presentation to a standing-room only crowd during a session on May 23, announced research group NOP World is currently in the field developing a value adjusted indices (VAI) that will adjust traffic and pedestrian counts to reflect not only how many people pass an advertisement, but also how many are likely to notice it. VAI will account for factors such as the structure’s distance from the street; the height and angle at which it sits; and its size, among other things. The metric will also control for creative, as good creative can draw an incremental 30% to 40% more "eyeballs."

“We have really come from a point where two years ago the medium didn’t have a common research vision to a point where it’s endorsing new research numbers and funding this VAI development,” Mr. Philport said. He said consolidation, which has created a better organized industry eager to attract more national ad dollars, is driving the project. And with national advertisers clamoring for more accuracy and information from media sellers, the industry cannot afford to be complacent.

Lower audience numbers, higher CPMs
One likely implication for media sellers is that VAI will lower audience numbers and result in a higher cost-per-thousand-viewers, or CPM, the metric by which agencies and media asses the cost of viewership. However, the industry’s major media owners are hoping agencies and advertisers will appreciate a more sophisticated, accurate ratings system, and that the move will foster more confidence in the medium. As it is, media buyers currently discount outdoor measurement numbers about 70%.

“Out of home media is not the great unwashed medium anymore but in fact has the opportunity to leapfrog over other media,” said Andrea MacDonald, president-CEO of MacDonald Media, a New York-based out-of-home buying firm.

The outdoor industry’s measurement history is scattered with many varied initiatives. The VAI project is the second in a three-phase overhaul to standardize and legitimize outdoor's measurement system. The first phase of the reorganization included a new audit with standardized daily effective circulation numbers (DECs), based on Department of Transportation traffic counts. The second phase involves compiling the VAI data. The third, which will layer demographic samples into the numbers, has yet to be implemented. Mr. Philport expects TAB to complete a request for proposal for the demographic sampling within the next three months, award a contract by the end of the year and undertake the sampling in 2006. NOP World, meanwhile, is expected to wrap up its field work by the end of the third quarter and VAI will be developed in the first quarter of 2006, Mr. Philport said.

'Completely dedicated'
“The momentum of this project will not be slowed or stopped at any time,” Ms. McDonald said. “A lot of you have sat in similar rooms here with me as long as 20 years ago when we had these same exact types of conversations regarding audience measurement and the lack of that information for the out of home media. ... This group and our industry in total is completely dedicated to having this done.”

Nielsen Media Research, which is the measurement standard for the TV industry, has been conducting its own out-of-home measurement research with a recent GPS-based pilot program in Chicago. A Nielsen representative at the panel presentation addressed concerns that at 800 panelists, the Chicago project’s sampling size precludes it from effectively providing outdoor measurement numbers. The Nielsen rep said the sampling size in its outdoor research is comparable to that of its TV research.

TAB has suggested it would be prohibitively expensive to compile both passage and demographic data solely from a GPS sampling. “The best is to start with the data we have and then overlay the demographics,” said Sam Sotiriou, a research consultant with Clear Channel Outdoor.

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