Cross-Media Measurement: Sort Of

This one from @FredWilson caught my eye. At first I got excited, then discouraged, then had a mixed (and more nuanced, I hope) reaction. I got excited because I thought media measurement firm comScore was finally going solve the holy grail of measurement across platforms -- meaning not just digital, but everything: TV, Web, radio, etc. I've been working on a sponsored white paper (early chapters here), during which it's become clear to me that while TV is the big kahuna, digital would get more ad revenue if it could better quantify a) unduplicated audience/community and b) cross-platform impact across media. Yes, OPA and others have done individual studies, but we lack a continued consistent metric that provides,  say, a trailing average over time.

comScore, according to Fred, is measuring across computer and mobile screens only, alas. Well, it's beginning. Correlating the two, we get a sense of what media/tech properties are up, down, rising and falling in each, and can put them in relative context. We see, for example, that Google is the 800-lb gorilla. Period. Though there is a lot of duplication of users, their mobile strategy seems to have made them dominant into the future.

The real measurement, though, would look not at computer screens vs. an insufficient lumping together of mobile, but rather at experience, which is really more relevant for media consumption (and, by extension, commercial effect). Let's say we could, within the bounds of protecting privacy, tell not just on what platform someone is consuming but how. Watching on a TV in the living room is from the smaller older screen in the kitchen. An hour-long show on Hulu or Netflix is different from clips YouTube, regardless the screen. And so on.

Plus, we in media have to acknowledge that no matter how good we get at this stuff, perfection is infinitely far away: You can get closer by halving the distance, but you'll never arrive. No matter the measurement you really can't tell exactly what's going on, especially in the ever-important long tail that in aggregate can be a big swathe of consumption.

Let me use my media consumption for the past 24 hours as an example that I hope makes a larger point. Last night, I wanted to catch up on The Daily Show, so I logged on via their iPad app, which informed me there'd been an interview with Warren Buffett and a financial journalist but which the app didn't offer. Using the Splashtop app on the iPad, I accessed my desktop computer and through the iPad watched the interview on The Daily Show website. comSscore might have registered that as a computer view, but it was really on mobile. I use Splashtop much the same way on Kindle Fire which is about half the size of iPad and yet another experience. I have even set up my bedroom's VCR (yep, I still have one) to tape future episodes of the show and will now be able to (untracked) watch at my leisure and fast forward through parts that may not interest me, including any commercials. I'll also be able to grab that cassette and play it at my mom's house (with less hassle than if I created an mp4 from my Mac's DVR), or trying to deal with DRM issues if I bought it.

While I'm probably an outlier in my habits, I'm normal in the broader view. If something is unavailable one way (for example, via an app), people will find another (as Wilson demonstrated during the blackout of Knick games by Time Warner cable when he went to an illicit German site). People will find ways to sling media, too. What may be registered as a view on one screen is actually consumption on another, perhaps time-shifted. Much is untrackable, not to mention various logons, cookie deletion and tracking blockers, and so on. Measuring the aggregate helps but it misses a significant part of the picture in our multi-device, multi-habit tech-laden world. New forms of ad targeting (such as explored in that white paper), demand much finer detail.

This is not to in any way call into doubt the utility of what Comscore, Nielsen and some others are trying to do in trying to measure across media and platforms. It is, though, important to understand the limits and that the experience of how media are consumed can be quite different from the ways in which they are measured. There are challenges here which also spell opportunity for entrepreneurs.

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The top of Fred's original post:

A VC: Media Metrix Multi PlatformcomScore is announcing something today that I am quite excited about. It is called Media Metrix Multi Platform and comScore describes it this way in their announcement: "Media Metrix Multi Platform offers unduplicated accounting of audience size and demographics that reflects today’s multi-platform digital media environment, which includes websites, apps and video content accessed from multiple devices."
This "multi platform" environment is the reality of most online properties today. We access them on the desktop/web, the mobile web, and on iOS and Android apps (and some other ways as well). But it has been impossible to get an aggregated and, importantly, an unduplicated view of the audience across all of these devices.