Solving the Legacy Panel Trust Problem

Advertisers and content providers have always had opposing interests. A neutral third party must exist. What the recent NBC/Netflix/SymphonyAM ratings dust-up uncovers is that just because people are watching on their phones or online doesn’t change the fundamental need for validated third-party data. It’s a basic question of trust. Who does NBC trust? Who does Netflix trust? Who can advertisers trust? Right now, the answer is no one—no one is solving the trust problem in a way that the media industry is willing to accept.

Historically, that trusted third party was Nielsen. But with today’s cross-platform media fragmentation, we’re seeing Nielsen—like other industry players—increasingly cobbling together methodologies, and an acceptable industry standard has not yet arrived.

New players, like SymphonyAM, are stepping into that breach and reaching for the crown by using mobile ACR technology to capture ad and content exposure. As groundbreaking as that may be, SAM’s methodology and data has been called into question as Netflix argues that SAM’s panel is incentivized to capture ad and content tags, changing panelist behavior and thus producing unreliable data. We’re not in a position to validate SAM’s data one way or another, but what this controversy underscores is that creating and maintaining best practices for building and managing panels is sacrosanct in our industry.

In the meantime, Nielsen is attempting to fill gaps in their data via partnerships with Facebook, Twitter and others to get “total audience” metrics, but what stops ComScore/Rentrack from partnering with Facebook also? The upshot is that if Nielsen isn’t bringing original, single-sourced data to the equation, they are quickly becoming just another aggregator, and will ultimately lose market differentiation and currency.

While the dust settles on the question of accuracy and currency, we know that to be the trusted third party, you must have a differentiated data set based on a carefully selected panel of users whose behavior is not modified by their participation. Data providers must use best practices and technology that can successfully obtain accurate measurements of what is happening in the real world without impacting user behavior. Who is going to step up, and be that trusted third party? Will Nielsen modernize in time to retain its crown? If not, who will take their place? These are interesting times, indeed.

What are you up against? We can help.