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Like Apples and Elephants: The False Equivalency Of TV and Digital Video Metrics

We have long questioned the industry’s passive acceptance of viewership numbers from digital companies like Facebook, Buzzfeed and YouTube, particularly given how specious many of them are: Facebook counts a three-second glance at a video autoplaying in the News Feed as a view. That’s the equivalent of Nielsen counting someone flipping through channels and zipping past NBC on their way to CNN as  a view, something they most decidedly do not do.

So it was with great joy that we read this most excellent piece about the false equivalencies between digital and television measurement and how it’s likely to create a digital video bust.  We particularly liked the fact that it offers a very detailed look at the differences in methodology between TV’s Nielsen ratings and the ratings used to measure digital media.

Specifically, it calls out the fact that TV numbers are calculated by average number of viewers throughout the show while digital views are just the total number of people who spent (as little as) 3 seconds or more watching the video.

That’s a huge gap and it matters because too many advertisers see those digital numbers and pull their budgets from TV. It also matters because those digital numbers are getting waved about during the NewFronts this year as proof that digital is a superior medium to television for video.

Only this time, the TV people are hitting back, calling out the false equivalency claims and reminding people that if TV were to use the same sort of metrics, their numbers would blow digital video out of the water.

So what gives? Why are otherwise intelligent people happily going along with digital video numbers that are clearly false?

We’re really not sure. Part of it is a desire not to get left behind, to be part of something new, to be able to say “we did this first.” And part of it is just trust: why would all these digital companies be lying to me and why hasn’t anyone else (e.g. the trades) called them out on it?

Worse still, the mainstream media has picked up on the steady drumbeat of “digital is beating TV” stories and run with it. They’ve been egged on in the past week or so by YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, who spent YouTube’s upfront crowing about how YouTube was now beating television, which is the sort of story the media loves.

The result of all that negative press however, is that more and more marketers are shifting their money from TV to digital video, with a $250M shift by Interpublic’s media agencies last week being the most recent example.

While some of those shifts were no doubt justified, we suspect many were not. Agencies like to talk about how they are “video agnostic” when it comes to ad placement, but the truth is that context matters and there’s little comparison between a Buzzfeed video and a full episode of Empire on Fox, in terms of production quality, frame of mind when viewing and overall reach. Advertisers and agencies need to come around to this and stop blindly accepting the numbers that digital publishers provide them. We’re calling on them to be proactive and demand some equivalency so that their client can really understand how the two stack up against each other, particularly in terms of engagement. To compare TV and digital video using the current disparate metrics is like comparing apples to elephants, and as an industry, we must strive to do better than that.

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  1. […] We have long questioned the industry’s passive acceptance of viewership numbers from digital companies like Facebook, Buzzfeed and YouTube, particularly given how specious many of them are: Facebook counts a  […]

  2. […] we pointed out the other day, we’ve long been surprised that no one has ever called YoutTube and (especially) Facebook out on […]