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East meets West, television meets 'video'

20 May 2015  |  Richard Marks 
East meets West,  television meets 'video'

Richard Marks reports from the first ever asi Asia-Pacific Television Symposium and is left wondering: what's in a name? A lot actually.

Travelling to Asia can feel like flying into the future - quite literally, given the need to put the clocks forward, but also in terms of global demographic trends. According to some projections, fully two-thirds of the world's affluent middle class will be based in the region by 2030. Major cities are being redeveloped at a quite dizzying rate as skyscrapers shoot up as quickly as blades of grass in the Spring. Certainly the Singapore skyline was almost unrecognisable from the last time I visited six years ago.

Singapore has become something of a media hub for the region with many international media corporations and agencies moving their regional offices there in the last few years and it seemed the ideal location for the first ever APAC edition of the asi Television Symposium.

In Europe the asi conference has been a fixture in the TV measurement calendar for many years and I have reported on recent events in this very column.

However, this APAC event was new and in response to popular demand. My duties as research director for asi were to help get the programme together and chair two of the sessions, and it was fascinating to help guide the debate from the stage and observe from the audience. Fear not, I do not plan to go through a packed agenda paper by paper, but some clear themes did emerge and I will attempt to summarise them here.

The main measurement players attended and spoke - indeed Kantar, Nielsen and comScore were joint sponsors. Significantly, whilst all claimed to be offering total solutions to TV measurement, all also indicated a willingness to collaborate, to work with the TV industry bodies around the world to build systems that may involve co-operation with other measurement companies. This is a significant development very much driven by market necessity.

Just as the future of TV measurement seems to lie in hybrid methodologies it may also involve a fusion of research and technology suppliers."

Until recently, BARB was something of an anomaly in blending multiple contractors - currently Kantar, IPSOS and RSMB - to provide the total service. However, many of the clients present at asi APAC discussed their plans for - or deployment of - multi-contractor systems. MMS in Sweden, guest speakers at the event, and BARC in India (the new Joint Industry Committee for TV measurement) are building multi-contractor systems, cherry-picking items from the TAM suppliers as well as related technology companies to build a la carte systems as opposed to the fixed menus that the TAM suppliers would probably prefer.

The new Indian TAM systems involved over twenty partners and in Singapore itself the Media Development Authority - described as Ofcom fused with the BFI - is in the process of a tender to develop a new TV measurement service and in a closing address to the conference Kenneth Tan (recorded by a TV news crew for the evening news bulletin) teased that an announcement was imminent and the contract would be awarded to "one...or more!" of the agencies in the room.

So just as the future of TV measurement seems to lie in hybrid methodologies it may also involve a fusion of research and technology suppliers. When I was actively involved as a TAM supplier it was the norm for research agency sales pitches to feature global maps with countries lovingly coloured TNS pink, Nielsen blue or GFK orange depending on their TAM service. It would seem that more subtle shades of purple and jade will be needed for such maps in the future.

Reflecting this trend, asi APAC was the first TV measurement event since the global partnership between comScore and Kantar was announced, with the latter taking around 20% in comScore stock and the announced objective to provide an integrated approach to measuring online and offline media.

Both Kantar and comScore speakers trailed the first fruits of this alliance - 'Total View' at the event. So collaboration is the new normal, although it will make event organisers in the specific case of comScore and Kantar wonder whether it will be fair on their rivals to have separate papers from both suppliers if they are now joined at the hip.

The new competitive set does include Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and Apple, whether broadcasters like it or not."

Another noticeable trend was the number of speakers who cited the help and assistance they had received from BARB in the UK. We tend to blithely say that BARB 'sets the standard' in TV measurement but this event certainly reinforced this as speakers queued up to pay tribute.

Indeed, I was reminded of the numerous fact-finding trips made to Washington DC in the early 90s by new East European democracies looking to establish a constitution and learning about the American model. However, given the recent deadlock in the American body politic, let's hope they eventually opted for something else. It is reassuring - from a UK perspective - to witness at first-hand the esteem in which our UK system is still held, even if the speed of progress may not be as fast as some critics would like.

Many other topics were discussed. For example it was claimed that in India buying a second TV for the home was as much of a family revolution as announcing that a second kitchen was being installed - the family that watches together stays together.

China too is having the debate about the relationship between social media and TV viewing, whilst there are a number of highly advanced Return Path Data systems in the region, including Astro in Malaysia, partly driven by frustration at small sample sizes for systems that have been developed to measure terrestrial TV.

One paper on the incredible amount paid for Premier League Football in the region helped me understand exactly how Chelsea can afford to pay Eden Hazard £200k per week.

However, my final theme is a more 'existential one': highlighted in this region, but of global relevance.

At asi APAC there seemed to be universal approval of the joint industry approach to measurement, although not what to call that system. Whether JIC, JIB, MOC or even PPICNIC, the principle of jointly funded audience measurement was the same. However, there was far less accord on what those systems should actually be measuring.

This article has used the term 'television' throughout, but there were strong arguments made from the stage that this term is too narrow - that we now live in the video measurement era - from TAM to VAM as one chart put it. I have argued in the past that there is some fundamental difference between quality 'television' and wider online video, but then I am over 50 and that differentiation was increasingly irrelevant according to many speakers.

A number of countries in the region have populations with average ages of less than 30, so what broadcasters used to do in the past is of historic interest only, it's what they do now that matters and the new competitive set does include Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and Apple, whether broadcasters like it or not.

So the question now is, should these companies be encouraged into the JIC system and how much longer can measurement be limited to a self-defined perimeter of what is - and isn't TV? Last month the German JIC, AGF, announced that it would be measuring YouTube within the 'TAM' currency system and I suspect that will be the first of many.

As MMS from Sweden have argued, it may be better to have the new entrants in the video market inside the tent (I won't use the full metaphor) than to give the false impression of measuring a declining medium, constrained only by its self-imposed definition.

Indeed yesterday in the States the Cable TV Advertising Bureau rebranded to become the Video Advertising Bureau. I wonder what odds you could get on BARB becoming VARB in the next five years

I left the asi APAC event with a definite impression that whilst in the past researchers in the region may have looked to the West to guide development of measurement systems, the rapid pace of change in the region and the adoption of mobile in particular may make the exchange of information more balanced in the future, particularly when it comes to a more open appraisal of what is - and isn't - television.

Certainly the plan for asi is to ensure that the two annual events - in Europe and now in the APAC region - shape and inform each other. This November sees asi celebrate its 25th anniversary in Venice, swapping vertiginous skyscrapers for campaniles and canals. If you'd like to give us your view from the stage then do get in touch.

The debate continues.


Richard Marks is managing director of Research the Media and research director of asi.

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