Nielsen have announced the official launch of their convergence panel. The panel of 1,000 homes and 2,800 individuals in the United States (I presume this is a pilot sample size) will have both their TV viewing and online surfing measured. The TV viewing is captured using the official audience measurement system, with the online element recorded using Nielsen’s proprietary technology.
This is a much needed development as we seek to overcome the prevailing 20th century methods of treating activities distinctly and in silos.
(NB: I recognise that this consensus was most probably taken for practical purposes but with Touchpoints and now this I am encouraged that we are moving towards a unified and more realistic approach)
With more activity moving online, the potential for this panel is incredibly exciting. Achievable insights can include
- Total TV viewing audiences/reach across TV, DTR and online catch-up (across all sites)
- The precise relationship between TV viewing hours and online surfing hours
- The effects of on-air continuities on online activity in real-time
- The relationship between viewing a programme on TV and accessing supplementary content or information online
- Simultaneous and solus usage. In theory, one could also see whether the frequency of visiting sites in simultaneous usage is affected as a TV programme draws to a conclusion
- Whether certain genres are conducive to solus viewing, and others to simultaneous
- Assuming advertising data is recorded, one can measure the call to action in prompting those exposed to the TV ads to search or purchase online
- Cross-visiting between channels/programmes and websites
ESPN have already benefited from cross-platform research with Nielsen, with data showing that those invested into the online offering had higher levels of TV viewing. But thus far, this is only looking at one dimension of convergence.
If the panel proves to be successful, it could theoretically be extended to the entire media landscape. Digital/Internet isn’t a straightforward media in that it overlaps with everything – audio, video and text.
Could we therefore see an online panel merged with the official radio or print audience currencies? By fusing the data to a consumer lifestyle survey such as TGI, we would create a real-time, ongoing record of behaviour that goes way beyond Touchpoints’ one-time snapshot. We would be getting closer to the holy grail of media planning with cross-platform reach, frequency and (perhaps) effectiveness all attainable.
However, we shouldn’t get too excited just yet as there are several objections and obstacles to overcome
- Mediapost notes a concern that increased data collection will put people off, making the panel more unrepresentative. This is a valid criticism, but it is equally valid to all current measurement panels. The size of the establishment survey and the length of commitment are already major deterrents. Adding a second – passive – measurement isn’t going to make much difference, in my opinion
- Similarly, people may be more concerned with their privacy online. When I worked at a research agency, our online tracking tool didn’t record secure sites and also had an opt-out on certain behaviour. Over time, this behaviour can be modelled and factored into assumptions. While imperfect, it can become a known limitation and worked around
- While the TV ratings are official, the online traffic numbers aren’t. There are still many problems with recording online behaviour – the long tail of websites, home vs. work vs. mobile access, bias to power users – and all these concerns will be transferred over to the convergence panel
- Related the the above, the panel size for online measurement needs to be far greater than TV due to the multitude of niche sites (and TV-related activities online are a minority interest, albeit growing). This means the convergence panel is going to need to be much larger than the TV panel and therefore more expensive. Will it be viable?
- And a very minor point, but as always one can get carried away with online behaviour and overlook the significant number that aren’t online (the “left behinds”). This should be avoided.
These benefits and obstacles are top-of-mind, and I’m sure they have already been considered by those involved. But as always, the proof is in the pudding and so I eagerly anticipate the data releases and word on how the panel is being used by the participating clients. A successful convergence panel can only be good news for the media industry.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmtimages/