Industry Thought Leader Interview: Richard Marks
We had the chance to speak with Richard Marks, Director at ResearchTheMedia to get his perspective on the media measurement industry and what disruptions and disruptors still lie in store.
VA: Do you feel that the media measurement industry should take radical steps to induce change, given the regulatory (laws, privacy) and business environments (customer expectations)? In which ways the vendors should re-invent themselves, or consider new business models, methodologies, business philosophies, or partnerships?
RM: Focusing specifically on GDPR, which came in last year—the more established market research companies are in a pretty strong position. Most of the data these companies gather come directly from having already given undertakings regarding data storage and privacy, in order to get the respondents’ consent to join the panel or be interviewed. For that reason, measurement companies with a market research “heritage” have always had something of an obsession with data protection, and thus regard GDPR as effectively bringing the rest of the market into line with behavior that they already practiced. GDPR has arguably been more of a challenge for newer entrants to the market, who are finding that the ways in which they harvest data—and the sources from which they source—may not be privacy-compliant, particularly when it comes to combining datasets from different sources.
The real challenge for the vendors is not privacy, but relevancy. There is considerable investment in data science expertise as new business models are less about “growing your own” data and more about combining data from different sources in innovative ways. In that regard, it could be argued that the media measurement industry is moving from being farmers tending their crops/panels, to being chefs combining the best quality ingredients to create delicious data cuisine.
VA: Many people are talking about big data, programmatic environments, and it seems to be all about scale and volume. What do you think about the role of panel-based measurement, samples, surveys, and other methods of data collection in the future.. which are not necessarily about volume or scale at all? Is there a place for them to continue, and in which ways?
RM: Panels will continue to play a vital role. Media measurement is still, and will always remain, people-centric, as opposed to being focused on measuring devices. Taking video measurement as an example, the average consumer is surrounded by devices that can serve to advertise to them, and it is vital that media measurement is able to “connect” those devices to give a complete picture of an individual’s exposure. This requires the measurement of individuals, not households or devices, and a managed panel remains the best means of doing that. Meanwhile, with billions of dollars traded on the results, the highest quality sampling of data and panel management remain vital.
We have, however, moved beyond the era of panels being the only game in town, and most measurement systems are evolving to be able to augment panels with data from other sources: server data, return path data. In the future, I believe that the primary role of panels will be as a source of demographics that can be applied to larger, richer, datasets. The future is hybrid.
VA: A bulk of revenues in media measurement in the US, 10 years ago, was attributed to TV and radio measurement. We have now seen countless companies emerging who attempt to measure audiences from different angles and with different approaches? What is your take on the continuity with TV and radio measurement, and to which direction are they evolving? Do you think we will still see in the future siloed and platform-specific approaches/focus in media measurement, or are we going to see perhaps one or many credible approaches focused on bringing the platforms together (cross-platform measurement)? If yes, why has this not happened yet, as we have heard about Nielsen and ComScore taking this step for almost 10 years already (the first talk about this happened late last decade at the ARF in NYC)?
RM: It’s important to differentiate between cross-platform measurement (tracking a medium such as a video across multiple devices) and cross-media measurement (tracking across video, audio, and text to give a view of how all media fit together). There has been significant progress on cross-platform because the rise of connected devices has left significant and embarrassing ‘holes’ in the measurement systems that needed to be filled to maintain stakeholder and advertiser confidence in a specific medium.
Progress on cross-media measurement has been slow, however. I would argue that the main handbrake has been the lack of an answer to a simple question: who actually pays for cross-media measurement? Advertisers have lamented its absence for decades, but the individual media silos have little incentive to actively support it. Why help to build a system that may actually see revenue flow away from your medium as a result? Meanwhile, the media currencies stay separate also for political reasons. At the moment each medium–TV, print, radio, outdoor, etc–has a currency it can control and have a say in. The fear is that in any combined currency the voices of video and online would predominate. Each medium would rather be in control of its own separate destiny.
So arguably, the main funders of any cross-media measurement would have to be the advertisers and/or media agencies themselves, but they would argue that they already indirectly fund measurement because they buy ad space. Are they likely to fund it more directly? I doubt it. So, I expect Groundhog Day for the foreseeable future–the advertisers bemoan the absence of cross-media measurement, but the media currencies have little incentive to support the idea, as advertising accounts for a diminishing proportion of their revenue compared to content sales and subscription revenues.
VA: If you were to build a new market research company now, without any legacy burdens, no other commitments, and funding of 50m USD, what would be your chosen direction/path/product?
RM: Personally, I would put my money into insight as opposed to headcount and big data. I think that there has been a significant investment in the area of media measurement using big data and panels, not least by Verto itself. It will be very hard for new entrants to catch up. If we assume that these initiatives can deliver on the numbers, then I believe that the demand will remain for insights to understand the human beings behind the data–their motivations and reactions to the content and advertising they see. I would describe this field as “scientific qual”, the successor to sitting people in focus groups.
There is a lot of work going on at the moment in the areas of eye tracking, biometrics, neuroscience, and VR. A lot of it is exciting but quite difficult to prove or disprove, such is the complexity of the systems being used. I think there could be a gap in the market for a company that focuses on adding value to media measurement through scientific qual. This would be positioned in a more simple and transparent way than up to now so that clients can easily understand, as opposed to using the intellectual salad dressing of the latest psychological theories, or arguing that turning part of someone’s brain blue or red is a good or bad thing!