Changing advertiser needs could signal a major JIC evolution
Smith, Sampson and Wavemaker's David Fletcher
Advertisers are seeking a solution to fill a "gap in the market" that current JIC services have not been able to cover, raising questions over the future of audience measurement in the UK and beyond.
JICs - Joint Industry Currencies - are the well established 'gold standard' for independent audience measurement, allowing for different media to be safely and transparently traded and planned. Operating in media silos, they include the likes of BARB (TV), Rajar (radio) and PAMCo (published media).
However, advertisers operating in a globally connected world where consumers move between platforms and devices, has complicated matters - as has the entry into the market of major new platforms well-used by marketers, but not independently measured to JIC standards.
Speaking at the Big Day of Data, Phil Smith, CEO of ISBA, the body representing the UK's major advertisers, said his members recognised the value of JICs, but there was "a gap in the market to create a cross media measurement for the entire digital landscape.
"What I'm also seeing a lot more of from global advertisers in particular...is to find solutions that work in JIC and non-JIC markets."
For instance, many advertisers want to see YouTube or Facebook video measured in the same way as television. Yet neither are measured by BARB for a host of reasons, including a reluctance for viewing data to be independently verified, ongoing brand safety issues, mismatched metrics and the fact their AV sits outside of UK broadcasting regulations.
It is an issue that the industry has debated for several years, and culminated 18 months ago in a consultation with advertisers and agencies, in which it was made clear BARB was not going to begin measuring all forms of AV.
Speaking at Tuesday's event, BARB's CEO, Justin Sampson, said: "BARB shouldn't just come up with new ways of measuring audiences just to suit one person who is not happy with the way we're already doing it."
Asked if there was any compromise, such as allowing BARB to at least audit YouTube viewing data to help provide better information to advertisers, Sampson said it was an issue of "principles".
"Do you want a JIC to be an independent measurer of audiences in a way that is equitable to all services that you are measuring, or do you want it to be something that audits data that is provided by media owners? They are two very different processes."
For instance, publishers already split this task by using PAMCo - fused with UKOM data - to produce cross platform, deduplicated audience data that helps media planning, alongside census-based ABC audits of print and online circulation figures, which are largely used for trading.
It is a system that has been in place for a long time and recent moves to change it floundered.
Sampson added that asking BARB to perform the function of both auditor and audience measurer for AV meant there would not necessarily be a guarantee of "comparability of metrics."
For advertisers, already dealing with increased complexity, this leaves a persistent and unfilled gap for the effective measurement of digital platforms.
The response in other territories has been to move JICs much closer together. In the Netherlands, for example, the individual measurement bodies now share a single office to help foster a culture of collaboration.
"We did this because advertisers and agencies asked us to," said Irena Petric, managing director, NOM, the Dutch equivalent of the UK's PAMCo. "The outcome helped reduce complexity and costs."
It might look like an attractively simply way to evolve the JIC model, but the UK ad market is much more complex and much more advanced, but what happens abroad can and sometimes does influence changes at home.
Research by GfK into the issue suggested, therefore, that JICs might evolve one step further to become pan-European.
"There is an argument that single-country JICs tend to be too fragmented in their geographical approach," said John Carroll, GfK's global director business development media measurement.
"Facebook argues that is one reason why it tends to partner with agencies that have international scale rather than JICs."
In the meantime, rumours exist that some tech firms are seeking to help fill the 'JIC gap' by supplying their own data alongside that from the established media currencies, although how this will work in principle, or how the wider industry will react is unclear, especially given the impact on competitive trading.
One senior ad boss told Mediatel they were not convinced media agencies would want to see a new system that tried to reduce complexity, citing market confusion as a business advantage for those able to navigate it on behalf of clients.
Whatever happens, it is likely to be a contentious and difficult process as various stakeholders - many of them competitors - argue about how to evolve; and the validity of the different metrics.
"There are definitely going to be governance, funding and political issues as we work out what is best," said ISBA's Smith.