All That Glitters Is Not Gold

by Dave Zornow

Countering brand managers’ Field of Dreams optimism that “if you build it, they will come,” NBC’s President of Research and Media says “if you can’t measure it,  you can’t sell it.”

Wurtzel elaborated on his April 2009 AdWeek column Crisis Measurement with a talk at the ARF AM 4.0 conference in New York. “You can’t sell what you can’t measure,” says Wurtzel. “Unfortunately our measurement systems are not keeping up with technology and consumer behavior.”

During Day 1 of the Audience Measurement conference, Internet researchers discussed the cookie crisis which undermines Web audience reporting. Wurtzel says that set top box data has big limitations, too.  Researchers can’t tell who’s watching or even if the set is turned on in data sets which exclude broadcast-only households. “Even the ostensible second-by-second precision does not really exist due to technical issues with the box,” he says.

Wurtzel points out that because STB ratings are created from transactional data, each vendor’s rules on capping (set on, set off) and edit rules (how many seconds of tuning is really viewing) can report ratings differences of up to 6 percent. “This kind of variance can create a lot of marketplace problems,” Wurtzel says — about $400,00 worth of value using the season finale of Heroes as an example. Wurtzel believes the STB will never supplant current metrics if each vendor is allowed to set their own standards.

“What we are learning is that there is less and less there, there,” says Wurtzel. “It’s not a criticism of any of the STB vendors or research companies. But this is really hard stuff. And its going to take a lot of time and money to get [set top box data] off the ground.”

Saying that if “he were king,” Wurtzel would combine all of the set top capabilities of the current research vendors. “The world doesn’t need multiple set top box providers. We need a single good one.” Wurtzel suggests that a nationally projectable product with Google analytics that combined TiVO’s profiling, TNS’ ad measurement and TRA’s consumer behavior in Rentrak’s user interface would be ideal.

Fearing that the industry will waste the STB opportunity, Wurtzel urged  bipartisanship heeding the White House’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advice to  “never let a serious crisis to go to waste.” The industry’s trade associations and other groups like MPG’s Collaborative Alliance and Nielsen’s Council For Research Excellence are good forums to hammer out standards. “If we waste this opportunity, it’s at our collective peril,” he says.

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