Privacy Or Perception?

As the countdown to what will undoubtedly be one of the most crucial and contentious upfront negotiating seasons ever continues, there is an impressive collaborative effort being led by several media conglomerates with linear and streaming platforms, including NBC Universal, Televisa Univision, Paramount Global and Warner Brothers Discovery, to stimulate the sharing and availability of accurate audience measurement.  In January, these companies banded together to announce the formation of a Joint Initiatives Committee, which, as Jon Lafayette of Broadcasting and Cable reported at the time, was welcome news to a world where simply trying to figure out who’s watching what has become fraught with incomplete and sometimes misleading information.  As Lafayette explained:

The JIC was announced… to promote competition among measurement providers and establish multiple currencies for buying and selling $70 billion worth of advertising. The measurement business has been dominated for decades by Nielsen, which was acquired by a consortium of private equity investors last year and has just rolled out its own new cross-platform measurement product, Nielsen One.

As I and others have continually documented, there have been decades of frustration on the part of companies who passionately care about, and indeed determine their monetizable worth and stock prices, on the inability of Nielsen to adapt to an ever-changing landscape where traditional viewership has been splintered to the point of practically slicing lentils, there are generational and multicultural divides on how, when and in what form media is consumed, and long delays in getting accurate information in the hands of those who buy and sell time, let alone those that report on it.

At the time of Lafayette’s reporting, the JIC was correcting an early oversight and was inviting agencies to join their efforts, and many did, including Omnicom and Group M.  Getting vendors involved, particularly the emerging alternatives to Nielsen such as VideoAmp, Comscore, iSpot and Samba, was already part of the plan.  Each of these have already carved out stakes with one or more of the JIC’s charter members, and are often featured in their reporting and spinning of data, particularly when Nielsen data is neither fully inclusive or timely.

But as veteran media observer (and yet another esteemed ex-colleague of mine) Brad Adgate pointed out in a thoughtful piece earlier this week, even the JIC appears not to be fully inclusive.  Most notably, he headlines that You Tube, Disney and Amazon are among the top-tier streamers currently not part of the JIC, nor are most of the main destinations for user generated content, including YT, Meta and Snap.  As Adgate’s article articulates. in the case of YT alone, that’s a gaping hole:

In 2022 YouTube generated $29.24 billion in global ad revenue and accoridng to Nielsen’s monthlY gague Report typically has a higher audience share than any other streaming platform, including Netflix.  (The February chart we referenced yesterday confirmed this, even when adjustments were made to factor out duplicated viewing from traditional media).

And for the advertisers that were belatedly invited to join the JIC, those destinations matter quite a bit, especially for the younger audiences they covet.  As Lafayette’s article cited, a respected and appropriately anonymous agency executive added that while the intention of the JIC is noble, it may be overly ambitious to expect change, even when necessary, to be fully embraced:

“You can’t exclude companies from even being counted because the money has flown because consumers are there,“ the executive said. “It’s the job of the measurement company to count. It’s the job of the agency and the media owners to agree on the value we ascribe to it.”

“We think competition is good,” the executive noted. “For us, it’s an extra cost because we now have to support three different systems, three different data sets, subscribe to them, and analyze them. So for us, having a multi-currency universe is a net negative.”

And there’s also the issue that, to many of those platforms that are facing more challenging issues than merely data transparency, there are some greater goods at stake when it comes to prioritizing the goals of the JIC.  And as Simulmedia’s Dave Morgan points out in his provocative piece for Mediapost, THE FUTURE WILL BE ABOUT WALLED GARDENS–AND THAT’S OK, if one looks at other industries, the falderal about who’s on top doesn’t seem to matter as much, and few seem to mind:

The notion of walled gardens — closed ecosystems limited to certain sets of users and partially or largely separated from other, competitive services with  controlled provisioning of access to outside services — isn’t new in the world of technology. Virtually every telephone and telecommunications company is a walled garden. Health care providers are walled gardens. Banks are walled gardens. Retailers are walled gardens.

Most larger media properties are walled gardens. All of the major social media sites are walled gardens. Most mobile phones and connected televisions are parts of manufacturer-controlled walled gardens. Search engines are walled gardens. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+ and Google YouTube are walled gardens. So are services like Peacock, Tubi, Roku and TikTok.

It will be important that each support certain common protocols to enable access to their platforms and the ability to create certain levels of comparability. That doesn’t mean they all must become “open platforms” permitting anyone to use them, enabling anyone to buy ads on their platforms, to talk to their users, or to capture or harvest their users’ data in the way that so many web publishers did so foolishly, in the end creating a real disservice for their users and their ultimate businesses.

Media companies with oars in the water in what have been more traditonally competitive and transparent businesses where box office reports and overnight ratings once truly mattered are driving the initiatives of councils like the JIC.  But to advertisers, who’s number one is far less consequential to how effective their dollar spend is, and to those platforms that are components of manufacturer-controlled walled gardens, as long as they have their proprietary data, they’re fine, thank you.  And as we continue to see, there clearly isn’t a one-size-fits-all service out there yet to fully believe in.

I wish the JIC well, and believe in their mission.  Lord knows far too many jobs rely upon making some headway–perhaps, G-d willing, one that might be one I could at least considered for.  But if they are unwilling or unable to accomplish that goal with full inclusion and participation, especially even in light of consumer safety to minimize the kind of social discourse disruption that has the potential to be far more impactful than even this year’s upfronts, then perhaps they and their participants should pause and reconsider if the time and dollars they are investing in this holy grail are being applied toward achieveable goals.

Frankly, I’d rather they focus their limited resouces on inclusivity of more minds to help them consider these issues (hand raised) than to fight windmills with those that clearly have differing priorities and are significant enough to make a great deal of what they are trying to do open to such accurate and necessary caveats such as those that Adgate and Morgan’s thought pieces point out.  Because being in a walled garden may be a good thing for some businesses and consumer privacy, but it isn’t as great when it closes off minds.

Until next time…




Leave a Comment