There’s a big opening in the TV measurement space now that Nielsen is without MRC accreditation, and the sharks are circling in the water.
While there are various partners that could steal market share from Nielsen as it works to launch Nielsen One, the cross-platform currency it promises the industry by 2024, none are as far along as VideoAmp, media buyers say.
According to VideoAmp and executives from major holding companies, the ad tech firm is preparing to kick off a pilot test with five of the six largest media buying groups to see if it can provide a viable alternative currency to Nielsen for cross-channel TV buying.
Omnicom Media Group, Havas, Dentsu and Horizon Media have confirmed their involvement, and Publicis is participating as well, according to sources. GroupM is participating across select clients, according to VideoAmp, but could not be reached for comment.
Campaign US reached out to WarnerMedia, ViacomCBS and Discovery to confirm their involvement, and did not hear back in time for publication. NBCUniversal declined to comment but sources say it is exploring the program. Disney confirmed it is not involved in the pilot.
VideoAmp president Michael Parkes, however, described the test as “a collaborative effort across the buy and sell side.” According to multiple media buyers, the pilot is the first and largest of its kind.
“This is the first time there's been a three-way test between agencies, networks and a data provider all saying ‘We want to trade on this currency,’ and getting everyone on board,” said Mike Law, US President, Amplifi, Dentsu.
Media agencies have been using VideoAmp, which combines different TV viewership datasets to map out audiences, to plan their cross-channel video buys, inclusive of linear TV, for years. But they’ve still transacted with networks against Nielsen ratings, which have been the entrenched currency for the $70 billion linear TV market for decades.
But given recent industry controversy over Nielsen, stemming from its undercounting of national TV households in February 2021, both agencies and networks are looking for alternatives — and they’re coalescing around VideoAmp as potentially a top choice.
VideoAmp, for its part, has been working toward this moment for a long time. The company, launched in 2014, has built a dataset that mixes multiple sources of viewership data to glean cross-screen information on 24 million households and 35 million devices. It’s also able to deduplicate audiences across streaming and digital platforms.
Nielsen ratings, as a comparison, are based on people meters in 40,000 households and don’t offer cross-screen viewership information.
VideoAmp has laid out a 12-month roadmap to become “a viable currency for the 2022-23 broadcast year,” Parkes said. The currency will be impression-based and operational across digital and linear channels, while supporting transactions against age and gender demos, household income, ethnicity and custom audiences. Down the road, it aims to enable transactions on business outcomes.
“Transacting on demos is not going away,” Parkes said. “But a lot of agency holding companies and advertisers have proprietary data assets. We're able to ingest that data so they can create their own custom audience definitions and then transact on them.”
VideoAmp has made headway in the marketplace. In addition to being a preferred data partner of Omnicom Media Group and Dentsu, it has integrated on the sell side with Open AP, a TV buying platform across ViacomCBS, NBCU and Fox.
“We have already seen that VideoAmp can measure linear TV with a high level of fidelity,” said Brad Stockton, SVP, U.S. national video innovation at Dentsu International.
The pilot program, however, is still in its nascent stages. VideoAmp plans to develop custom programs for each agency to test the viability of its currency against Nielsen’s, although the details are still fuzzy. One media agency plans to nail the test framework by the end of Q1 2022, before the 2021-2022 upfront season.
Dentsu plans to start its pilot in Q4, but is still working through its RFI documents. “There are a lot of elements associated with getting this underway, and we are doing our due diligence and vetting,” Stockton said. For example, one thing that’s not yet clear is how well VideoAmp is able to report on age and gender compared to Nielsen, he added.
Preparing for a marketplace with multiple currencies, the industry is not putting all of its eggs in VideoAmp’s basket, and is open to testing with other providers. NBCUniversal said as much when it sent an RFI to more than 80 measurement partners in August. Media buyers agree that having more than one currency is important because no one has a perfect view of cross-screen viewing. They also want to avoid another monopoly, in the hopes that more competition will finally push the market to innovate.
“It's imperative that we come together as an ad community to give clients options in the marketplace,” Stockton said.
The industry also still hasn't given up on Nielsen, which is so entrenched it will continue to be a player for years to come, buyers agreed. Both Omnicom and Dentsu are advising the company as it develops NielsenOne, although few are willing to wait until 2024 to find an alternative option.
“The framework for Nielsen One is strong and conceptually makes sense,” Dentsu’s Law said. “But it's important that whatever is created is done right. I don't want to rush something just to have it and then fix it later.”
There are challenges, however, with having too many currencies in the market, one being the cost for agencies; Nielsen alone is often one of the biggest line items on an agency’s budget behind staffing and rent, one buyer said.
There are also roadblocks to consider in regards to network involvement. Disney, which has a global partnership with VideoAmp competitor Samba TV, leaves a glaring hole in the pilot program without its participation. As Stockton puts it, “we can say what we want until we're blue in the face, but we need the networks to come together to allow this to be actionable.”
Another challenge in a multi-currency market will be interoperability across providers, without which it will be difficult to compare currencies against each other. “There is such value in having a currency that allows you to compare and contrast media partners,” Law said. “Do [advertisers] want to hold different dollars to different types of accountability?”
For VideoAmp, its fate as a scaled currency provider will rest on its ability to execute. Buyers see it as a viable top contender, but they’re not ready to rule out other options just yet.
“As we're experimenting, if it doesn't work, we'll try something new,” Law said. “I'm not quite ready to put a stick in the sand. A good amount of work needs to happen.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Horizon Media is participating in, and NBCUniversal is exploring, the pilot program.