May 28, 2019

Video measurement standard inches closer to reality

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

The Media Rating Council (MRC), the de facto watchdog for media measurement, is inching closer towards implementing a single standard for measuring video across all platforms.

Why it matters: Media, marketing and entertainment companies have been trying for years to come up with a universally-accepted standard that would allow advertisers to compare video metrics across social media, TV and everything in between.

  • Without a standard, marketers have been spending billions of dollars on ads that they can't independently prove are effective across different screens.

Driving the news: Last week, the MRC finished collecting dozens of comments in response to its long-awaited draft proposal for the new cross-media audience measurement standard, which imposes stricter rules for digital companies reporting video impressions and stricter rules for how TV report commercial viewership.

  • Broadly speaking, the provision applies stricter rules for how digital video companies report views while also holding the TV industry responsible for making sure all of their ads are watched, not just some ads within a certain time block.
  • Dozens of other provisions are included, like standards for counting ads, device verification, user tracking, etc.

The catch: While the majority of the 70-page proposal was agreed upon by all sorts of companies — social media companies, marketers, TV companies, advertising groups, etc. — two small provisions have been highly-contested, according to George Ivie, CEO and Executive Director, of the MRC.

1. The duration-weighted impression (DWI) metric has been the most controversial, says Ivie. The metric weighs impressions, or views, on an absolute basis of completion using a common 30-second denominator. It applies to cross-media comparisons only.

  • Ivie says marketers want more clarity around why the 30-second metric was chosen. Mobile marketers in particular believe this metric puts them at a disadvantage because, they argue, that mobile ads don't need to last that long to be effective.

2. The pixel requirement for viewability has also caused some contention. In the past, the MRC has said that video views are valid if 50% of the pixels load for at least two consecutive seconds.

  • Now, it's requiring that 100% of the the pixels need to be in view for at least two consecutive seconds for a video ad to be credited, regardless of the platform it is distributed on. To no surprise, mobile companies are also frustrated with this.

Audio is also an interesting topic within the standard. Though not controversial, Ivie says he's gotten feedback around how the MRC should be measuring audio completion. Many digital TV companies believe closed-captioning should be considered as a part of the audio auditing process.

The big picture: The MRC's ability to enact such a standard stems from its history as the only truly independent body that handles media measurement in the U.S. The group, which was formed in response to a Congressional mandate half a century ago, has been led by Ivie for nearly 20 years.

Between the lines: As the industry has rapidly evolved to include new kinds of video, advertising and media, not all are on board with the MRC approach.

  • Sources in the mobile marketing community, mostly from large tech platforms, argue that the Association for National Advertisers (ANA), should be in charge of the task.
  • The ANA, along with other ad industry groups, have worked closely with the MRC for years on standards. The ANA mostly represents marketers.
  • Other groups, particularly agencies and some television companies, have told Axios they disagree.
  • "I'm not sure specifically what the ANA knows about measurement when it comes to the operational side of it," says Tim Castree, North America CEO of GroupM. "I would not think the 4As or the ANA would be in the best place. I understand the ANA has the trust of marketers ... but the idea that the ANA or any industry body would operate the system of measurement for the industry doesn't make any sense to me."

What's next? Ivie says he's gotten enough feedback about the DWI, viewability and audio provisions that he's going to reopen the discussion around what to do about those provisions with the larger working group.

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