Seeing-And Missing-The Next Curve

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HEADLINE: AUDIT BUREAU OF CIRCULATIONS INTRODUCES RAPID REPORTING

“…a new rapid reporting service for magazine circulation…The service will allow media planners and buyers to get precise circulation numbers within weeks of publication (emphasis mine).”

HEADLINE: DID YOU SEE THAT SIGN? ADVERTISERS WILL HAVE THEIR ANSWER AT LAST

“…Nielsen Media Research (announces)… an ambitious, expensive effort to provide data to help measure the effectiveness of outdoor advertising…850 consumers in the Chicago area carry (a portable recording device) for nine days… tracking their movement past outdoor signs (emphasis mine).”

HEADLINE: ARBITRON BEGINS PORTABLE PEOPLE METER ROLLOUT

“…a new radio audience measurement service based on its portable people meter technology… the conversion from its current paper-based diary method will begin with Houston in July with plans to convert to the top 10 radio markets by the fall of 2008 and the top 50 within three years (emphasis mine).”

HEADLINE: AGENCIES BAFFLED BY PEOPLE METER’S KIDS RATINGS BOOST

“…viewing levels among children 2-11 were 26-33 percent higher (in February 2006) than during the February 2005 sweeps… Prime time viewing grew the most (among 2-11 year olds)” (emphasis again mine.)

Reading these stories over the past weeks, I’m reminded of the French cavalry officers who spent the first decade of the 20th century breeding a superior battle stallion that would give them decisive advantage on the battlefields of France, Belgium and Germany. In the process, they completely missed the invention of the tank.

So much of what’s being passed off as innovation in the world of traditional media delivery and measurement is really nothing more than apology and rationalization for the threadbare reporting practices of the past. Truth is, the major audience measurement companies are faced with a Gordian knot: How do we serve the media and marketing models of the future without completely trashing our existing finances and relationships with the current TV, radio, print and outdoor powers?

I don’t claim to be an expert in audience measurement or the economics that guide Nielsen, Arbitron and others. But maybe having too many experts who are too close to existing models is part of the problem. These companies are going to have to go through the same gut-wrenching levels of reinvention as the media companies they serve… only they’re going to need even more vision and finesse in doing so. Some unsolicited advice:

  • GIVE HERESY A CHANCE. If there are people inside your company who doubt the future of your business, give them a meaningful forum to discussing its reinvention. Dissent and creativity are the water and oxygen of your future….value and preserve them.
  • LISTEN TO THE KIDS. Who are the marketers, advertisers and media company execs who will be in power 5 or 10 years from now? Start talking to them and asking them how you should reinvent yourselves. Those of us who are near or over 50 aren’t your future and most of us are too vested in the status quo.
  • NO MORE HALF-MEASURES. Trying to prove billboards are being seen or applying already outdated People-Meter technology to radio are incremental improvements to dying media measurement models. Each time you make one of these moves you erode the credibility and trust you’ll need as you create the next levels of measurement. Put your time, your energy and your best people against the models of the future… not the reclamation of the past.

The tank is already in the field. What’s next?

Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver

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