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Deep Dive 3 Feb 2020 - 6 min read

Anthony Fitzgerald, Prof. Karen Nelson-Field on the ad impressions "currency crisis" and faltering advertising attention

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

Nine sales boss Michael Stephenson: “It's not just about striking a rate or CPM. Of course, that needs to happen, but that's the transactional part. Brands need media partners to work alongside them as they navigate through the current situation."

TV industry veteran Anthony Fitzgerald joins leading international media academic Prof. Karen Nelson-Field, Tumbleturn Media’s Jen Davidson and Craig Service from the globetrotting Australian TV and video data and measurement start-up, Adgile, to unpack the ad industry’s impressions crisis, why consumer attention metrics must inform impressions pricing and the urgency for broadcasters to shakeup TV audience measurement to digital-like real-time audience reporting and impact. 


The $250 billion television sector may be on the verge of a revolution around measurement and data as it starts to seriously invest in the attention economy to stem the flow of dollars to platforms that offer one-dimensional measurement.

Legacy media metrics no longer cut it – there is a crisis in currency, according to Professor Karen Nelson-Field. But she thinks the ability to measure beyond basic impressions and actually gauge attention is on the cusp of commercial reality – and brands are crying out for it.

“It is official that the trading currency is in crisis and traditional impressions are notably incomparable, impure and somewhat watered down,” says Nelson-Field, founder and CEO at Amplified Intelligence and Professor of Media Innovation at the University of Adelaide. 

“The fact that media is sold on opportunity to view or potential to view tells us nothing of whether someone has actually seen it or not.  So there’s a massive cry out that the currency at the moment is failing our advertisers.”

Advertisers around the world, says Nelson-Field, have woken up to both the need to grab attention and to be able to measure that attention. As a result, she says, “this thing called the attention economy is literally in hyper-drive”.

"There’s a real gap in understanding, because the information marketers are given, certainly from agencies, is very much around ‘every impression is the same’. But that is absolutely not the case."

Jen Davidson, managing partner, Tumbleturn Media

All screens – and platforms – are not equal

Nelson-Field’s most well known work underlines that reach and screens are not equal – and that impressions as a currency across channels with different levels of engagement fails to provide any meaningful insight.

In simple terms, she says, an impression on a digital platform is counted when at least half the ad has loaded for two seconds. If people are scrolling quickly, “That holds no attention relative to platforms where you are sitting there relaxed and it is 100 per cent on screen. Attention is a measure that transcends that [basic metric],” says Nelson-Field. “It’s not a measure of reach and frequency, but a measure of human engagement. So if a platform allows for impressions to be scrolled really fast, well then your attention rates are going to be lower. And that is not the fault of the advertiser.”

No two platforms are the same, agrees Jen Davidson, principal at Tumbleturn Media. But she believes marketers, fed a stodgy diet of price and reach by their partners, are yet to fully grasp that market fundamental.

“There’s a real gap in understanding, because the information they are given, certainly from agencies, is very much around ‘every impression is the same’,” says Davidson. “But that is absolutely not the case.”

"There needs to be a revolution, frankly, in the current level of commercial content. It won’t occur by one network or one platform reducing the amount of commercial content by 10 per cent or 20 per cent. The entire industry needs to get behind this - and soon."

Anthony Fitzgerald, former CEO, MCN

Advertisers need to pay more for fewer ads

Former MCN CEO Anthony Fitzgerald was involved with Nelson-Field’s Not all Reach is Equal work as it was commissioned by Think TV. He believes the research represents a powerful tool for TV networks which “should do more with it.”

Meanwhile, he says advertisers should be “willing to pay more for attention, because it is becoming increasingly scarce.” That would allow network owners to reduce adloads – which Fitzgerald has repeatedly prescribed to keep audiences from switching to less disruptive models.

“There needs to be a revolution, frankly, in the current level of commercial content.  It needs to be reduced significantly so that there’s less interruption - across all of the television platforms from linear through to streaming services and VOD - to improve that viewer experience,” says Fitzgerald.

“It won’t occur by one network or one platform reducing the amount of commercial content by 10 per cent or 20 per cent. The entire industry needs to get behind this and the platform then needs to be recognised for the value of the impact and the attention that it delivers, not a traditional CPM,” he says, “and it must start soon.”

But more sophisticated metrics are required to enable that shift, says Fitzgerald, in order to give marketers the justification for increased investment.

“There needs to be some performance metrics that allow television to compete at the bottom of the funnel. That has to happen quickly. We’re seeing more money move out of television because the networks are not providing real-time digital- like metrics for marketers,” says Fitzgerald. “It is long overdue and the networks need to move forward.”

Tumbleturn’s Jen Davidson agrees. Digital metrics may not be fit for purpose – but that is essentially all marketers have.

“Proving accountability is still the biggest challenge that marketers face to their boards and certainly to the CFO.  The shift to digital was largely driven, I think, by accountability and TV has been really light on that front,” says Davidson.

“That is why clients and agencies default to media metrics like CPMs and reach and impressions and they look at it individually across each particular platform.  What the market doesn’t have is a single view that says, ‘what’s the real impact of what we’re doing on our business?’  We default to pure media metrics across individual channels and that’s a problem,” says Davidson. “We need something better.”

Fitzgerald has long bemoaned the glacial pace of change, given the existential threat posed by inaction.

“Cost per impression and cost per reach point in this day and age are increasingly meaningless anachronistic measurements.  We should have moved on from this quite some time ago,” he says. “The fact that television every year is expected to negotiate a reduced CPM because that is the only metric that people refer to, I just find extraordinary.”

Hence the importance of work such as Karen Nelson-Field’s around attention and effectiveness, says Fitzgerald, which is now “going global”. Moreover, says Nelson-Field, the money is starting to follow.

“We’re seeing on a global level that the MRC, the ARF, the WFA - there’s some pretty major players from both the brand side and agency side that are actually starting to invest in this change,” says Nelson-Field. “We see that there are capital investments starting to form on technology that can help change currency or at least play a role in it.”

As a result, she believes technology that can help provide more informed metrics and planning will be mainstream “within a couple of years”.

"We’re measuring too many different components across too many different channels. The key is to keep it simple, measure the metrics and outcomes that matter … as opposed to just measuring lots of meaningless media metrics."

Jen Davidson, Tumbleturn Media

Advertisers: pay agencies only for results

New technologies and metrics, says Fitzgerald, should spur new conversations – and new contractual models - between advertisers and their agencies.

“If new technology delivers the sorts of opportunities to measure attention and engagement and performance differently than ever before, then, the advertiser themselves has to consider renegotiating their remuneration deals with their agencies,” says Fitzgerald. “Because if it continues to be a model where they’re being remunerated on frankly meaningless media metrics like cost per thousand and cost per reach point, that will be the default. They need to start looking at new ways of measuring agency performance and the output - which is business related results.”

Tumbleturn’s Jen Davidson agrees – and says marketer dashboards need to evolve to focus only on what matters.

“Its critical to keep things simple and that clients determine the metrics that really matter for their business, be it brand or sales, and where they can look for a simple view and lean in and test different models,” she says.

“At the moment, we’re measuring too many different components across too many different channels. The key is to keep it simple, measure the metrics and outcomes that matter to that particular brand … as opposed to just measuring lots and lots of meaningless media metrics.”

"The ability to shift your weights market per market based on performance has never been developed before. So having the opportunity to give this tool to brands and to agencies and broadcasters is really exciting for us."

Craig Service, chief revenue officer, Adgile Media

Making TV catch up

Craig Service, chief revenue officer at ad tech firm Adgile Media, thinks the Queensland-based outfit can provide some of the answers marketers, planners and the TV networks are seeking.

Adgile touts its platform as providing ‘actionable TV data at the speed of digital’. A bold claim, and ad tech is rife with empty promises, but Fitzgerald and Nelson-Field are both on Adgile’s advisory board – and they think it walks the walk. In a nutshell, Service says the platform delivers sharper data, faster.

“Historically the data in linear television has been slow. It’s often weeks, it can even be months old in terms of post-analysing the effect. Globally, there is no real time capability with linear television,” says Service, who spent two decades working at large and independent media agencies. “The other thing is that the historical data we’ve been using for TV is really light in terms of scope and its detail.

“There’s very little granularity and there’s very little technology that is actually focused on trying to automate the legacy [aspects] and that’s one of the things that we’re looking to do with our technology,” he says. “It’s what we refer to as ‘intelligent content recognition’ and it’s bringing accountability to television throughout the entire funnel.”

Service provides an example of that that actually means in practice.

“A direct response advertiser that uses a lot of linear television; they have a threat from a competitor that increases their share of voice with a very strong offer in the moment.  That’s going to have an immediate effect on web traffic.  It also has an immediate effect on conversion,” Service explains.

“Historically, it would take up to two months for the brand, for the business owner to have any understanding on what it was that impacted sales in that moment.  With real-time technology and our ability to monitor the entire category, we’re able to set triggers and we’re able to action that in the moment.  Since we see a direct response TV client’s share of voice under threat, we can activate digital channels to arrest that decline. Historically, we had no way of doing that because we did not have visibility and the data.”

The platform can also track performance by market, says Service, which means “by time of day, by day of week, and by creative version”. He claims it can also run the numbers on “how any particular ad weighed, how any particular version is performing in Brisbane as against the performance in Adelaide, for example.  The ability to shift your weights market per market based on performance has never been developed before.  So having the opportunity to give this tool to brands and to agencies and broadcasters is really exciting for us”.

That capability is why Fitzgerald is on board.

“If you think about the strength of television today, its core strength remains its ability to drive reach quickly.  Its viewability and attention metrics are incredibly strong. There’s no other medium like it to fill the top of the funnel,” he suggests.

“When you add in real-time digital metrics that Adgile is offering and performance-based metrics off the back of that campaign offered again in real time, it rounds out every step through the funnel.  Television today is losing revenue to other platforms that aren’t as powerful because of a lack of metrics - so I think this is incredibly exciting.”

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald believes the opportunity is global.

“The level of interest in these new metrics for linear television around the world is really starting to pop. This is a local Australian company that is changing the way television is measured around the world. I think Australia needs to get on the front foot here and own this.”

Tumbleturn’s Jen Davidson has had a look under the hood of Adgile’s platform. She agrees it is promising is “absolutely needed” and if it delivers, will serve agencies as much as marketers.

Media plans, she says, have not moved much beyond TARPs for the five metro areas and regional breakouts for the last 20 years.

“It hasn’t evolved to capture what the real impact is by market, by brand versus product.  All of these issues clients are facing and staring into everyday and yet we don’t have a means of being able to measure it other than what we did last time,” says Davidson.

“Having seen this product, I think it’s exciting how it can benefit clients and agencies as a planning tool to really understand what we need to do to make an impact with our brand.”

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