The 'evolution' of viewer measurement

Over the holidays, Netflix released “Bird Box,” a thriller starring Sandra Bullock that follows the star and two children as they seek refuge from entities, which, if viewed, cause those who look upon them to commit suicide.

While the film doesn’t reveal exactly what the entities are, nor what they look like, a character in the film named Charlie (Lil Rey Howery) says they take on the form of “your worst fears, your deepest sadness or your greatest loss.”

Hence the need for blindfolds—especially if you’re seeking safety by trekking through the woods and down a river with full exposure to the entities. As Malorie Hayes (Bullock) tells the children: “Under no circumstance are you allowed to take off your blindfold.”

One person who apparently did remove his blindfold was CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl. Questioning the veracity of Netflix’ claim that more than 45 million accounts watched the film in its first week, Kahl tweeted the number was “independently verified by… uh, Netflix.”

When I read about Kahl’s reaction (“Bird Box breaks Netflix record for viewing figures, but critics aren’t so convinced” in The Independent), I couldn’t help but think of a presentation Abby Auerbach, executive vice president and chief communications officer, of the Television Bureau of Advertising, made in May 2018 at the annual meeting of the Advanced Television Systems Committee in Washington, D.C.

While Auerbach was at the ATSC meeting to discuss the value of advertising on television—especially with the new capabilities ATSC 3.0 brings when it comes to personalized content recommendations, VOD and audience measurement, her presentation offered a bit of context for where television stands against digital alternatives as a marketing vehicle.

Three points come to mind from the presentation. First, TV reaches more adults in a single day than Netflix and YouTube reach in a month, she said. That is more than 180 million adults 18 years of age and older in one day of TV viewing versus 114.5 million per month for YouTube and nearly 85 million a month for Netflix.

Second, TV needs one day to reach just over 81.5 million unduplicated viewers on six networks with 546 programs and a viewing time of 60 seconds, which Nielsen requires to be considered a viewer, versus 31 days for social media with more than 10 billion videos on 90 platforms and a viewing duration of just 3 seconds, which ComScore requires to be counted as a bona fide viewer.

Third, all that glitters is not gold, especially when it comes to digital. Auerbach quoted Marc Pritchard, Chief Brand Officer at Procter & Gamble, during her presentation, as saying: “As we all chased the Holy Grail of digital, self-included, we were relinquishing too much control—blinded by shiny objects, overwhelmed by big data, and ceding power to algorithms.”

To be sure, there is a bit of apples and oranges in my comparison of Netflix to ad-supported digital alternatives to TV. After all, Netflix is a purely SVOD. Still, Auerbach’s presentation underscored the fact that when it comes to reach and effectiveness broadcast television remains the king.

Throw into the mix the backlash Facebook has experienced from marketers who have felt deceived by its video ad metrics and the enhancements 3.0 offers TV viewers, stations and marketers alike, and the position of television looks to remain strong for the foreseeable future.

The challenge for broadcasters won’t be as much technological as it will be personal, helping marketers like Pritchard to take off their blindfolds, face their greatest fear, and recognize the “shiny object” may be the rapacious entity that gobbles up their ad spend without satisfying their expectations.