Friday, March 30, 2007

How To Accurately Measure Time Spent

I want to thank Joe Mandese of Mediapost for his comments on yesterday's blog - "Why All Impressions Are Not Created Equal". Joe reminded me that even with Nielsen's proposed commercial ratings data, we will still not know how long people watched a particular commercial for.

Which makes his question - so how do you propose to accurately measure "time spent" - quite relevant.

The fact is, with the intrusive-based marketing platform under which the majority of advertising operates, time spent with a commercial cannot be accurately measured. As Joe pointed out, we still will have no idea whether someone is in the room, paying attention, what have you.

And this will always be the case for interactions initiated by the advertiser.

Intrusive-based advertising is driven by the intent of the advertiser, not the intent of the viewer. It survives only under the false pretense that advertisers are still in control over when people watch what. As control evolves into the hands of viewers, intrusive-based advertising will rapidly lose its effectiveness and will be replaced by ...?

Well, that is the question, isn't it?

The current media business model is to deliver viewers to advertisers. But as control shifts to the viewer, the business model of media needs to change to one of delivering advertisers to viewers. Intrusive-based advertising will need to evolve into advertising that viewers can access - or not access - on their terms.

For simplicity sake, let's call it opt-in advertising.

With opt-in advertising, intent is driven by the viewer, not the advertiser. Because the viewer initiated the interaction, we know they are in front of the screen - be it TV or computer. As well, because they initiated the interaction, we know there is some degree of interest.

How long they stay watching, of course, depends upon how long the commercial continues to pique their interest.

Will they opt-in and then walk away, leaving the commercial running? Some, perhaps. But examine your own viewing habits. When you opt-in to a video online, do you leave it running when you're called away to do something else. Most people stop what they're watching so that they can come back and continue where they left off.

That is the beauty of being in control.

The only way to accurately measure "time spent" with a message is to allow intent to be in the control of the viewer, not the advertiser. The fact that this is currently being done on digital systems, both online and off, is encouraging. VOD and DVR platforms are already accurately measuring, second-by-second, how long people watch commercials for.

At the end of last year, DVRs were in 18.7 million homes. VOD was available in 29.8 million homes. 55.6 million households had broadband access. As these numbers increase, as control further shifts into the hands of the viewers, as audiences continue to fragment and scatter, the question becomes less about impressions and more about how do agencies justify the cost of creative?

By being able to accurately measure time spent, advertisers will be able to determine how involving their commercials actually are. By monetizing this measurement data, advertisers will gain a form of fiscal accountability over their agencies creative output.

Just recently, "accountability" was once again listed as one of the top priorities of advertisers today. The simplest way advertisers can get accountability is to give control to the viewer.

And therein lies the irony. The only way for advertisers to regain control is to give the viewer complete control.

It should prove interesting.

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