Nielsen, Comscore execs clash on value as CBS exec backs hybrid approach

A spirited debate broke out during the TV Data conference about how reliable people panels are to measuring TV audiences, especially in local markets. A Nielsen executive defended representative panels as part of an overall measurement approach that also includes analyzing other data including from set-top boxes. A Comscore executive said panels are flawed fundamentally because people’s behavior changes when they join and remain in a panel. And a CBS executive said a hybrid approach is clearly the way to go, but there are other challenges marketers face in getting access to the data they need to analyze the effectiveness of their TV spending.

READ MORE: Complete Coverage of NYC TV Week

All of them acknowledged the extra challenge of measurement and attribution (proving the effectiveness of ads) in local markets as opposed to nationally.

Steven Walsh, executive VP of local markets at Comscore, which uses set-top and other big data sources, replied to a question about audience panels by saying, “What is this magical panel that is scalable to the degree that it’s able to measure viewer behaviors and consumer behaviors across a vastly changing and highly fractionalized marketplace? I don’t think that the answer lies in a small sample. I think the answer lies in massive, passively measured sets of viewing data which, when you have tens of millions of homes, allow you to glean the insights you need to glean with a level of competence and stability that allow you to make better business decisions than a small allows you to do.” Especially with dozens of platforms and hundreds of channels for consumers to view video on.

Paul LeFort, senior VP and sales director, Local Media Client Solutions, then said that no single solution will work in the long term. “At Nielsen, what we believe is that the blending of both complete and connected, representative measurement from a panel -- thats audited and accredited and fully representative and measures direct person’s measurement — blended with the benefits and the scale of big data is fundamentally one of the best approaches to measuring viewing video in this fragmented world.” He pointed to a Nielsen Oct. 3 announcement of improvements to local-TV measurement combining meters, people panels and big data as a key milestone.

Radha Subramanyam, chief research officer at CBS, then said: “We all agree that a hybrid approach is the future, so let’s put all that to bed. It’s obviously going to be a combination of some kind of calibration panels and a good degree of big data, and I think that’s well settled.”

She continued: “I think the question is what are you going to do with all of that data that sits outside of those two” arenas. Meaning data held by various media companies that is not readily available.

“And what is this ecosystem that we are going to create, which is cooperative, which is open, that includes the walled garden, that we can see a holistic view of the world. Because we are all here for the marketer, right? And the marketer does not care about these walls, does not care about these silos,” she said. “They want to see the story of the journey of their customer and their campaign across all of these worlds of walls and everything else. So it’s not a technical problem.

Is it a problem of will, is it a problem of leadership?" Subramanyam I don’t think we quite know that. We do know it’s a very, very complicated world, but I do think we need to think much bigger than we've ever thought and we have to think much more cooperatively than we’ve ever thought. And we really have to think of an open ecosystem that’s privacy safe where everything is flowing back and forth. And that’s not easy right? The tech’s easy but getting it all done is not easy.”

Frank Comerford, chief revenue officer and president of commercial operations at NBCUniversal Owner Television Stations, said that at the local level, stations need people panels to accurately reflect the TV audience and they need access to large data sets. “If we had those two things I would say we would be far along the way to success.” But having 1,000 people reflect 23 million viewers in the New York metropolitan area is a small sample, he said. “If they’re not in the right places all the mathematical analysis in the world will produce incorrect numbers. And the idea that they’re in the right places I find troubling.”

Nielsen’s Lefort said people panels provide a “foundational, fundamental source of truth” and echoed a point Nielsen’s Kelly Abcarian made on Monday at Advanced Advertising about the diversity of Nielsen’s panels. They “provide a fundamental source of diverse measurement, specifically Hispanics and African-Americans and Asians. Those are all part of the controls that Nielsen puts on our panels to ensure that we get accurate, if not exact, representation from those diverse audience, which today as we know are fueling the growth of our economy and retail and so forth.”

A hybrid approach is the best one, he said, and that includes connected-TV data and online digital data in addition to set-top data. “We see the benefits of all of the above and it’s a question of how you do that, how you blend those things together.”

Comscore’s Walsh had the last word on panels, saying that geographical balance can be set on panels but it’s unrealistic to think you can “strive for behavioral representation.” To become a Nielsen home and stay as one can change viewing behavior, he suggested.

Comerford said the ultimate measurement is whether or not advertisers are happy with their ad effectiveness, and that kind of attribution is difficult to achieve at the local level. He plugged something broadcasters are doing increasingly, which is to advocate for impression-based ad buying on the local level in addition to the national level. Ratings leave out too much of a local station’s audience, he said.

Lefort and Walsh both said impression-based buying is important, as did Subramayan, but she stressed that other factors important to premium video — brand safety, context, duration, quality of creative — also matter.

Ashley Alleyne-Morris, Partner Insights Director at Parrot Analytics, also joined the panel, which was moderated by Gerard Broussard, principal at Pre-Meditated Media.

New York City Television Week continues today and tomorrow at the Westin New York Hotel at Times Square. Tomorrow (Oct. 30) will see the 19th annual Hispanic Television Summit convene. 

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