Alex Khan
Jul 24, 2015

The real measure is, ‘who’s watching?’

Alex Khan of AOL Platforms argues for the weighting via a 'distraction metric' when comparing the impact video ads on big versus small screens and among different demographics.

Alex Khan
Alex Khan

One of the biggest weaknesses of television is the question of who’s watching and when. In theory, we know the absolute audience from ratings data, but that can be inconsistent, with markets using different research methodologies, such as people metres versus phone polls.

More advanced measurement, like Astro’s return data paths, used with set-top boxes in Malaysia, can give a clearer idea of who is tuned in, but with attention spans tuning out during commercial breaks and various other distractions, even if audiences stay on the channel, are they really watching?

In the online space, we have a clearer picture, because the digital technology provides a way to know how many people are actually served an ad. We can use viewability metrics to see how many of these ads are actually seen. With television, the fact that an ad is broadcast doesn’t mean it’s being watched. A toilet break, a kitchen snack or a chat with a family member all pull us away from commercial breaks.

The issue is more pronounced today because of our love of tablets, laptops and smartphones. Distraction is the advertisers’ enemy, particularly for a sit-back medium like television and, increasingly, people are using their various other devices whilst watching TV. It is particularly pronounced in Asia Pacific, with research by Millward Brown showing Hong Kong leads the world in multiscreen use: 37 percent of people simultaneously use other screens whilst watching television.

AOL research shows that when people are distracted by a device, their ad recall decreases by 43 percent. When a viewer is distracted by another person, it’s as much as 52 percent. These distractions are a massive influence on the undoubted power of television to communicate brand messages.

To be effective, planners need to re-evaluate their television advertising strategies based on the level of attentiveness, particularly given the increase in multiscreen usage. This can be done by weighting TV according to the level of attention it receives. For example, AOL’s research has shown that 100 unique impressions from short-form video content are equivalent to 117 impressions delivered on primetime TV. This varies, though, according to the segment. In the case of millennials it would take 148 primetime TV impressions to achieve the same impact as 100 short form video impressions.

How far you go with this will vary depending on the level of information you gather based on use-cases: age, gender and device types all play their part. In fact, AOL surveyed nearly 3,000 consumers to devise appropriate ratings based on these factors, to arrive at an ‘attention metric’ that can be used to weight different types of video inventory according to the target market.

These measures shouldn’t supplant other important metrics associated with video planning, such as reach and frequency. It does, however, supplement them, giving planners a more realistic interpretation of how effective their advertising is, given their advertisement’s mode of delivery.

Additionally, while this weighting measure can be applied across an entire audience, a more sophisticated approach is to apply this metric to each specific target audience, based on the propensity for multiple device use at peak viewing times. Younger audiences, for example, will have a higher distraction factor than viewers of a different age demographic.

TV broadcasters might see this as an attempt by the online industry to devalue their inventory, but it’s not the case. Increasingly online video will be delivered to big screens and the same distraction factor will apply. When an ad is playing, there is always the danger that eyes will revert to a smaller screen resting on the viewer’s lap. Distraction needs to be factored in to all aspects of media planning, like any behavioural attributes.

Alex Khan is managing director of AOL Platforms South East Asia


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