Piecing measurement together: the UKOM story
As the online measurement body approaches its tenth birthday, Richard Marks explains how it fits into the currency JICsaw
Since its birth in 2009, UKOM has occupied a unique position within the UK media currencies. It is widely used for planning online media but, up to now, has not been classified as a ‘JIC’ – a Joint Industry Currency. This is because the ‘technical’ definition of a JIC is that it represents both media owners and advertisers.
How and why this was agreed as a definition is lost in the mists of time, but it does seem to be widely accepted. In that context the news that ISBA – representing the UK’s advertisers – is now a (literal) stakeholder in UKOM is potentially significant. Is UKOM now a JIC? And does it really matter anyway?
Advertiser involvement is significant, but it can also be argued that the fact that UKOM endorses and oversees a supplier service (comScore) makes it different from other industry measurement bodies who effectively create their own surveys and sub-contract the building of them. But as long as a currency measurement system is widely accepted as the industry standard and used as the sole source of information, does it really matter how we label it?
In UK media research, we use the word JIC almost as a generic term for currency. Around the world though, JICs are from the only model for running industry currencies. In some countries currencies are technically ‘MOCs’ – Media Owner Committees – without direct advertiser representation. Advertisers have argued that they already pay for the measurement by buying advertising with the media owners so can shy away from a more direct funding.
In many countries (US, Spain, Russia to name a few) the TV currency is wholly owned and run by a research company like Nielsen or Kantar. In some (China, Singapore) a currency is funded in whole or part by the government in power. So in the UK we may be getting too precious about the term ‘JIC’ and to whom it does or does not apply. If it walks like a dog and barks like a dog, it probably is a dog.
Far more important is the long-term future of the media currencies and whether the UKOM model is future-ready. To guide that debate it is useful to refer to the recent white paper from Gfk, “What will the media currencies look like in five years time?’ Gfk operate currencies in multiple markets and consulted with stakeholders, advertisers and media agencies about the development of those currencies.
You can read the white paper here (it is pleasingly concise!), but it outlines three possible futures for the industry currencies:
- The currencies become ‘Super JICs’, gathering together and endorsing various external data sets alongside their own research.
- The currencies become decentralised, using technology like blockchain to bypass traditional research panels and connect users directly with consumer data.
- Anarchy: media platforms trade directly with their own walled garden data which is not pooled or shared.
GfK lay out the three alternatives, but do not say which they feel is the most likely. I, on the other, am going to make some predictions.
Blockchain technology will play a role from the technology point of view. In this recent podcast chat with Oliver Pitschke we discuss some of the implications. It can improve the way that data is used and trading is conducted, but I don't think it will obviate the need for JICs, MOCs or proprietary currency services.
The long-term impact of blockchain may be huge, but the short-term impact may be more gradual. It is being oversold at the moment, cited as some miracle cure-all magic potion.
While a future of anarchy and ‘anything goes’ was a possibility a few years ago, the industry has come to its senses. Last year I worked with the IPA and ISBA to publish ‘A Matter of Fact’, a call to arms to advertisers and agencies to demand transparency and accountability.
Advertisers in particular have woken up to the dangers of using unaudited digital data that is self-serving to the provider (more often than not a large platform). There is real pressure on those digital platforms to get their act together and engage with the industry currencies. So I believe that the medium-term future for the JICs lies in the ‘Super JIC’ model.
Currencies will continue to have a core panel or data set at their heart, but they will increasingly become as important in the setting of agreed industry standards for third party data sets, the auditing of those data sets and their incorporation (via fusion and calibration) into the currency to allow cross platform planning.
It is interesting that JICWEBS for example is described as a ‘JIC’, but does not actually manage a survey of its own, instead setting industry standards in good practice for digital ad trading. Increasingly JICs, or currencies, will do both: manage their own surveys and set standards for others.
Over time the importance of the core surveys they run will diminish, with the emphasis being on endorsing and managing pre-existing digital data.
In this respect it could be argued that UKOM is ahead of the curve in that it sets standards for, governs and then endorses a third-party data set. This is currently comScore, but a tender process is undertaken every few years to ensure that the endorsed service remains the most fit for purpose.
Another development in which UKOM may actually be ahead of the curve is that, unlike BARB, RAJAR and PAMCo, UKOM is used solely for planning purposes. UKOM was not set up for trading in the way that RAJAR for example feeds directly into the JET trading system.
I do think that the UK JICS may find that their ability to cover both planning and trading becomes increasingly difficult with the rise of addressable advertising and digital exchanges. Increasingly the data used for trading will already exist at a more granular level than panels can ever manage.
If that is the case then the currency bodies may transition to setting standards for trading, with their own surveys used increasingly for planning.
BARB’s approach to Sky AdSmart’s addressable system may be the shape of things to come. The BARB panel measures whether AdSmart ads are being served and provides market size and demographics, but to track campaigns - which ads were served to which Sky boxes - then you need to refer to Sky’s in-house database which is audited by RSMB.
So the currencies do have a clear future but it will not lie in trying to do everything themselves, but rather combining in-house research with the endorsement of external data sets, particularly when it comes to trading and campaign analysis.
This ethos of the currencies not trying to do everything themselves should extend to increased collaboration across the JICs.
I worry about the tendency towards parallel development over the last decade. Each medium (TV, radio, print) has expanded online to encompass a much wider definition (video, audio, text), but the surveys have largely stayed separate as they have sought solutions to their digital challenges.
It could be argued that PAMCo is ahead of the curve in that it involves a collaboration with comScore who provide UKOM-approved online elements of the survey, meaning that PAMCo do not have to reinvent the digital wheel.
It will be useful to watch developments in the Netherlands which may give some clues as to how far this collaborative approach can go. A few years ago, prompted by clients, the Dutch currency bodies moved into the same building – the Media Huis – to encourage collaboration.
The next logical stage came this summer when the ‘mother of all audience measurement tenders’ was announced. As Joe Lewis has noted, the TV, radio, press and online currency contract periods have been aligned and advertised at the same time in a system described as TMAM (Total Media Audience Measurement). There is still some work needed on the acronym perhaps, but it will be interesting to see whether initiatives like this and PAMCo become the norm.
I hope we are moving out of an era in which client and supplier relationships were clearly demarcated and perhaps inhibited by fear of failure, into a new more collaborative era. Ideally the currencies cherry pick the best of what each supplier has to offer and build close relationship with their partners, giving as much weight to innovation and collaboration as they do to SLAs and the spectre of tender processes.
You could make a convincing argument that UKOM is now a JIC, but in the end does that really matter? They key is whether UKOM is ready for this new era of audience measurement , which will require collaboration, lateral thinking and, above all, flexibility.
Richard Marks is an independent consultant with Research the Media. Previously he was Global CEO of Kantar Media Audiences