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Monday, May 01, 2006

Engagement Panel: No Currency, No Clarity

Engagement Panel: No Currency, No Clarity
by Erik Sass, Friday, Apr 28, 2006 8:19 AM EST

ENGAGEMENT IS REAL AND MEANINGFUL, but its usefulness is limited by the lack of a single measurement currency, speakers on the "Engagement" panel agreed during Media Magazine's "Outfront Conference" on Thursday. During the course of the panel, it became obvious that in large part that's due to the fact that the meaning of engagement itself is still up for debate.


According to Deborah Reichig, senior vice president of sales strategy for CourtTV, "We're talking to one agency who thinks that loyalty is an important factor, and they measure that by the number of people who have watched three out of four episodes. Another thinks it's persistence, and that's measured by numbers of minutes watched per show. And there's others who want to look at 'persuasiveness.' We actually did a literature review and there are 85 different words and phrases that people have used to get at this concept."

The reality and importance of engagement were established early on by Paul Iaffaldano, executive vice-president and general manager of the Weather Channel's media solutions group, who noted statistics on the disparity between viewer attention to programming and ads: "There can be a 25 percent drop-off between ratings in program and ratings in minutes where commercials run. That is a very significant drop-off, and that is worth measuring."

By the same token, minute-by-minute data is not always reliable, according to Sandy Eubank, director of U.S. research and communications insight for OMD: "We don't think that the minute-by-minute ratings are engagement, and we don't think that they are commercial ratings... sets tuned doesn't necessarily indicate engagement... we prefer a measure of engagement where we actually ask something of the consumer."

Eubank went on to explain that it would be a mistake to use simple statistics like the number of sets tuned to measure a more complicated phenomenon like engagement: "Engagement occurs on a continuum... and if you just look at that tuning data you're missing a richness in data that is very important to advertisers. Having minute-by-minute data is far from a commercial rating." Above all, Eubank suggested a metric "where someone has asked the consumer something that suggests that they're involved with the program."

Although the means and object of measurement remained ambiguous, the other panelists seemed to agree with David Marans, executive vice president of IAG, when he summed it up: "Ratings are currency for transactions, and Nielsen does them well... but if you're building a house, they're the foundation, not the whole house."

And where might media execs find other sources of data? Deborah Reichig, senior vice president of sales strategy for CourtTV, noted: "There is a wealth of data hidden in those syndicated services we all use every day. There are ways to get at loyalty, and length of tune, and audience retention... you can use a combination of syndicated data and proprietary data to get a much better feel for what's going on."

Of course, proprietary methods for measuring engagement also allow competing research and media firms to distinguish themselves--a fact that seems to suggest a single measurement currency may still be a long way off. But it's worth noting that the basic ratings currency provided by Nielsen was at one time a proprietary service too. If "engagement" is to become a meaningful metric, it too must be standardized.

"They're probably all different," Eubank said of media deals that focus on engagement. "What's hard is to get other people around the table to accept your measure of engagement... What we would like to see is that everyone accepts one measure--and there's a currency, and a level playing field. But it may be ten years before that actually happens."

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