Numbers have always been the lifeblood of the TV industry, with ratings determining the future of shows and networks vying for a slice of the $70 billion U.S. TV ad pie. But in recent years, the accuracy of some of those numbers has been called into question as more people watch TV shows on devices such as smartphones, and tablets aren’t currently part of Nielsen’s ratings.
That has made the work of Jane Clarke, managing director of Coalition of Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) particularly important. Backed by major programmers, advertisers and agencies, CIMM has been working to improve cross-platform measurement with initiatives such as Project Blueprint, an ambitious effort to provide measurement across five platforms.
ESPN funded the first phase of Project Blueprint last year. CIMM is now working with comScore on a second phase that will produce data for media usage on TV, radio, desktop, smartphone and tablet for programmers including ESPN, Disney/ABC Television, Fox, NBCUniversal, Turner, A+E Networks, Univision and Viacom as well as Publicis Groupe, GroupM and Omnicom Media Group.
In helping the industry develop new research tools, colleagues praise Clarke both for her people skills and her expertise in technology and research. “She has a unique knowledge of this space,” says Artie Bulgrin, senior VP of global research and analytics, ESPN, who has worked with Clarke since CIMM was founded. “She is an excellent researcher, and she understands the technology.”
Clarke began developing that expertise in the 1970s when she got an internship in the communications and research department at National Geographic. “I fell in love with the media,” she says. After graduation, she took a job at Nat Geo, which she describes as “the ultimate cross-platform brand.”
From there, she landed at Children’s Television Workshop, producer of Sesame Street and then Time Inc., where she worked on the research program for the pilot tests in San Diego and Orlando of Teletext, an ambitious plan to offer text and graphics to the TV screen via cable TV networks. The idea was way ahead of its time, and soon was shut down. “But it was the first project where I learned the importance of new technologies and how changing technology would drive a lot of the future of media,” Clarke recalls.
During her 27 years at Time and then Time Warner, she was also involved in helping Warner Music adapt to digital distribution. She managed a companywide research council and coordinated research efforts for large media buys across all TW properties. “This is when I really was struck by the lack of tools to help plan, measure and evaluate crossplatform ad campaigns,” Clarke says.
As digital video usage skyrocketed in the late 2000s, research execs pushed for an industry-wide organization to develop new tools. CIMM was created in 2009; Clarke joined in early 2010 as its first managing director.
New Research Frontiers
CIMM became an important laboratory for experimentation on new measurement technologies, such as set-top box data. It has been working to establish open industrywide standards for identifying video on digital platforms.
When not working with researchers to find new technologies to help measure the new frontiers of consumer behavior, Clarke says she and her husband love the outdoors, hiking new trails and working on their large garden.
Just how well the seeds she has helped plant in recent years for new cross-platform measurement tools will take hold isn’t clear. The TV industry has never been willing to support more than one ratings system, which raises some doubts about the future prospects of the competing Nielsen and comScore offerings. Clarke knows there’s much work to be done, but she and CIMM are dedicated to seeing the efforts bear fruit.
End of the Starvation Diet
For the moment, major researchers are pleased that 2014 will see some notable progress in cross-platform measurement. In addition to Project Blueprint, Nielsen has also been investing heavily in a system to offer cross-platform measurement for TV, online, smartphones and tablets that will be launched this fall.
“After being on a starvation diet for so long, 2014 will be a very big year for cross-platform measurement,” says Colleen Fahey Rush, executive VP of strategic insights and research for MTV Networks, and chairman of the CIMM executive board.
She adds that the new phase of Project Blueprint will offer some improvements over the initial study by adding younger demos and DVR playback, which is important for entertainment networks such as MTV.
Fahey Rush and others are also encouraged that Nielsen’s acquisition of Arbitron didn’t derail the project. In the first phase of Project Blueprint, both comScore and Arbitron supplied data and Nielsen has agreed to continue to supply comScore with data as part of an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission that approved the Arbitron deal.
The comScore project raises, however, some obvious competitive issues in an industry that has traditionally been unwilling to support competitors to Nielsen’s ratings, which have long served as the currency for the TV ad business.
“When CIMM was organized, some people thought that it [wanted] Nielsen killed,” says Wurtzel. “That was never the intention. We understand that Nielsen is the currency and no one is arguing that shouldn’t continue….We just felt that the R&D for measurement was lacking and that…we wanted to find players who could better foster innovation and that is what we have been doing. Project Blueprint is a very interesting methodology. No one is really sure whether or not but if we don’t support it, we will never know. The industry will have to ultimately decide.”
Other researchers add that both products could very well survive. “What Nielsen and Project Blueprint do are highly complementary,” says Bulgrin. “Blueprint focuses on providing us with insights and measurement on what content is being used across multiple platforms. It is not intended to be a currency. It is more of a planning and evaluation tool while Nielsen is much more focused on the currency side.”
Others note that comScore has a reputation for aggressively pricing its offerings, which could help it gain a toehold.
Meanwhile, CIMM continues to push ahead in other areas as well. In addition to Project Blueprint, Bulgrin cites its Trackable Asset Cross-Platform Identification, or TAXI initiative as a major success story.
CIMM is currently working with the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) on standards for putting unique identifying codes onto videos so they could be easily identified in an automated way, much like the Universal Product Codes on goods in supermarket shelves. This system would use either Ad-ID, the industry standard for identifying advertising assets across all media platforms, or EIDR, a global registry for unique identification of movie and TV content. And Clarke remains at the center of these efforts.
“Jane has been very successful in bringing together the industry to explore the future of measurement,” even though CIMM is a small organization with just two employees, says Fahey Rush. “It’s a little like herding cats because there are lot of different interests and it’s not like CIMM is this big industry organization with 50 people. But she is very patient and highly collaborative.”
Adds Wurtzel, “[CIMM] has had an influence far beyond its size.”