- January 18, 2008

Coming Soon: TV! As Seen on the Internet

Over the holidays, everyone (by which I mean, my wife's family) was asking me, "What exciting new developments can we expect to see in online metrics in 2008?" From my perspective, I do see something important bubbling up on the Internet, something that is going to affect online metrics because existing metrics are insufficient to measure it.

I'm talking about video.

I've been in meetings over the last couple of months with some of the biggest general market agencies in the world — the kind of agencies that make the bulk of their money on TV, that typically leave interactive to that digital shop they own out on the coast. Suddenly the Internet has become front and center for these guys, and the reason is video.

It seems like every morning when I scan the MediaPost headlines, some big new video/Internet convergence deal has just been announced. Half of all U.S. ad dollars are spent getting TV commercials in front of viewers, and that pool is poised to spill over into the Internet. In fact, it is not difficult to envision the day when the Internet has become a TV distribution channel, and maybe even the preeminent one — with the flat-screen, wall-mounted monitor in your living room wholly agnostic as to whether the episode of "Lost" you are watching came from the local ABC affiliate, your DVR, on-demand from your cable head end, or streamed from the Internet.

But let's just focus on 2008.

The Internet is not a medium; rather, it is a bundle of media sharing a common distribution platform. I can read the paper online, watch TV online, listen to online radio. I can visit a Web site, use a widget, search for a plumber, or check my Facebook page. I believe that as each of these things emerges as a platform for advertising, we are going to find that one measurement solution does not fit all, any more than a magazine has a program rating, or a radio station has an average issue audience.

I should also point out that even online video is going to become at least two distinct media; for now, let's call the split "TV on the Internet," and "consumer-generated video." All the debate about how to monetize 2-minute clips of guys putting Mentos into Coke bottles, that falls under consumer-generated video, and I'm not thinking about that right now (and I'm not sure that putting home movies on the Internet turns them into viable advertising vehicles.) I'm focusing on TV on the Internet, and I'm pretty confident that the networks will figure out how best to include advertising in their video content, such that with the right metrics, monetization will follow.

So what kind of metrics are necessary to support a robust marketplace for advertising in TV on the Internet? Obviously, the measurement moves away from page views and toward something more duration-oriented. I think the relevant inputs into measurement will be:

  • Start and stop times (the building blocks of duration metrics for all audio and video media).
  • Content identification, at the program level, and at the episode level within programs.
  • Program source: to whom should a stream be credited, and how should discrete streaming sources be rolled up into the appropriate ad sales entities? (At Comscore, we use something called the Client Focus Dictionary to make these aggregations for urls, pages, and Web entities.).
  • Commercial identification. I think we have two choices here. We can identify the commercials embedded within a stream discretely via some unique identifier; or, we can take second-by-second audience and cross-reference it against a log of occurrence time for ads within the video stream. If a spot airs from the 12-minute mark to 12:30 of a given episode of "Lost," we attribute the audience during that time period to the spot. This latter approach is essentially the way it works in TV, but I'm betting online we align around the first model.
  • Who's out there watching? As I've written before, measuring those people out there in front of the screen remains the true challenge for online metrics. But we'll need to do it in order to facilitate online video ad sales markets.

I suspect that, at least with respect to advertising and media, video is going to be a major game-changer for the online business in 2008. Is anyone else out there thinking about video? How do you see metrics emerging for the measurement of online video?

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