Online Ratings: A First Step Toward More Comparable Media Decisions

Today’s guest blog post is from David Ernst of Discovery Communications’ Ad Sales Research team. 

Recently, both Nielsen and comScore have introduced new online ratings capabilities to advertisers for the evaluation of digital campaigns. These moves are designed to deliver on the promise of putting online advertising on a more level playing field with other media, especially television.

Since the early days of the Internet, major advertisers decried the lack of comparable metrics in the digital space. The demand for online rating points has been echoing throughout the industry, primarily because it would enable a more consistent approach to planning and evaluation of online offerings alongside other media types.

So, after more than a decade, the two major Internet audience measurement services have developed metrics to answer the call by advertisers. But, while these metrics represent a first step toward true comparability, more data and information still are needed to fully understand the value of exposure to advertising across different platforms.

When it comes to inter-media comparisons – a rating point is not a rating point. A rating point only represents an “opportunity to see” a video or ad and does not provide a measure of the depth and quality of the experience. In that respect, ratings are a one-dimensional measure of value.

As Zach Rodgers and David Kaplan asserted in April, “Users watch all kinds of video in all kinds of ways and the GRP doesn’t begin to measure the value of something that has been shared on Facebook by a friend or whether it was seen randomly and somewhat absently.”

Despite some of these limitations, several agencies are looking to potentially develop guarantees with these ratings. While it makes sense to bring a ‘currency’ into the digital buy/sell equation, the new metrics are perhaps a little problematic when online ratings are used alone as an adjunct to TV ratings to guarantee a cross-platform video buy. Dislocations will likely occur in the online video marketplace as the market adjusts to a more commodity-like view of the value of video impressions, driven by TV-based valuations.

The online ratings developed by Nielsen and comScore offer relative comparability but, by themselves, fall short of a true estimate of the value and effectiveness of a video’s exposure in different environments and across different devices. When evaluating video delivery, there are still many reasons to consider value based on number of factors, not just a singular estimate of gross audience delivery.  None the least of these factors is that the interactive nature of digital video offers a value not currently available in comparable TV impressions. In addition, better measures are needed to assess the depth of engagement and advertising effectiveness across platforms.

With the development of ratings that can be used as a currency to substantiate online delivery, the industry has made very important progress toward greater accountability in evaluating digital ad campaigns… but the road to accountability is not complete. Online ratings are an important piece of, but on their own fall short of being, a comprehensive solution to questions of cross-platform comparability.