How device makers will become power players in media ratings
If you're looking for the future of ratings sources as media changes, you might want to consider looking past the screen and into the media devices themselves, says Mediaocean's Sarah Lawson Johnston.
As devices work harder to track more information about the people who use them, they also stand to become the source of ratings for the media they carry. Or, at the very least, devices will become critical players in the media ratings world.
To understand why that's true - and why that's important you need to start by asking why ratings businesses like BARB and comScore exist at all. And the answer is twofold.
First, media buyers need hard data on who's actually viewing the content they're buying ads against. Second, buyers need third-party verification that the viewership data that the media sellers share with them is actually right.
In traditional media, that first reason matters a lot. Devices like traditional TV screens and print newspapers don't collect data on who's watching, so you need researchers to deduce viewer counts through surveys and panels.
When you get to digital media, of course, there's no shortage of viewer/user data available; but much of the data collection is done by websites and ad networks - aka, the very people who are selling the ads.
With a potential for conflict of interest, that second reason for ratings partners comes in, and you need third-party ratings and measurement companies to create that neutral currency.
But now, we're heading full swing into an era in which the devices themselves do sophisticated measurement. And that will change the ratings game quite a bit - as devices are both neutral third-parties that (often) don't sell media; and they're getting incredibly good at capturing user information that can translate into advertising data.
Take Kinect 2.0, for example. Aside from already having the user's basic account information (name, age, registered location, demographic, etc.) Kinect 2.0 also recognises faces, movement, heart rate, and whether a user is looking towards or away from the screen. There's a huge opportunity there for advertisers - a point which Microsoft has made quite clear.
Similarly, smartphone and tablet users generate constant streams of data on web-based viewing and downloading, apps, and real-time location. Not only is geo-targeted marketing on the rise, but geoaware and real-time mobile location data can serve dozens of other marketing purposes.
Wearable health monitoring devices like Fitbit provide data points like steps walked, calories burned, heart rate and sleep levels; and full-spectrum wearable technology like Google Glass has a seemingly endless number of data measurement possibilities.
The last two devices are a step away from the Internet of Things - everyday products like ovens, thermostats, and trainers, all connected to the Web (or at least to a network). And the Internet of Things is set to be huge - with predictions of 9 billion available internet-connected devices by 2018 - bigger than the predicted smartphone, smart TV, tablet, and PC market combined.
That's a treasure-trove of user data. It's also a whole new avenue of possible advertising touchpoints - touchpoints on which the devices can record interactions. Ultimately, all of those interactions could be mined and leveraged as ratings, or at least could become a component of ratings.
With that massive amount of user data, plus a neutral position on media inventory, device makers stand to become huge power players in the ratings business. Minimally, that means we can expect major deals in the future between ratings companies and the device makers they'll need to gather data from - in way that's somewhat analogous to how Twitter is becoming the new partner of the TV ratings business right now.
But potentially, and in many instances, that will mean the devices themselves stand to become leaders in the third-party media measurement business.
That might sound like ratings businesses face a troubled, not-too-distant future with BARB v. Apple, or Nielsen v. Samsung. I'd disagree. That's because, while the devices may become increasingly good at gathering engagement data, someone will have to roll the information together across all the devices - TV, smartphone, glasses, what have you.
Who's that someone? My guess is the ratings businesses of today.