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Simon Redlich 

Addressing the JIC gap

Addressing the JIC gap

There is much to be done in the arena of digital audience measurement, but if we make use of all that the Joint Industry Currencies have to offer, perhaps the ‘gap’ isn’t as big as it might appear, writes Simon Redlich

I read with interest David Pidgeon’s recent ‘Mind the JIC gap’ article in Mediatel News. Whilst recognising the vital role JICs play, it also shone a spotlight on challenges we’re facing in our global, tech driven, digital ad market and posed the question ‘who will fill the JIC gap?’ My sense is that the gap is not as big as people may think. Here’s why.

Understanding JICs

JICs have a long established history in the UK and also other markets worldwide. They were established to provide transparency and consistency; in short, trust. A quality as much in demand today as when ABC, the first UK JIC, was established at ISBA’s behest in 1931.

Back then, building trust was enabled by the adoption of a far-sighted model with two key planks. First, the new JIC structure was tripartite, bringing together advertisers, agencies and media owners to agree a common standard. Secondly, it was ‘not-for-profit’. Not in the charitable sense, but without shareholders and therefore without dividend payments. Simply by the industry, for the industry.

This approach has enabled JICS to operate independently but with the industry’s interests at heart. Described in the IPA and ISBA’s ‘A Matter of Fact’ report - almost 90 years later - as the ‘best-in-class approach to providing objective and comparable audience data and metrics’, the JIC model has stood the test of time.

The challenge in today’s digital ad market is to deliver that very same quality; trust.

But in assessing any JIC gap it’s important to be clear about the full range of services JICs already provide. These include:

  • Audience research (BARB, JICMAIL, JICREG, PAMCo, RAJAR and Route)

This was the focus of the Mediatel article and is a large and important part of what JICs offer.  These JICs focus on the behaviour of the consumer, commissioning audience research data in standardised ways agreed by the industry that result in comparable metrics within each medium.

  • ‘Census’-based measurement (ABC and JICPOPS)

ABC provides hard counts of media owner data to industry-agreed standards, coupled with independent auditing. JICPOPs delivers comparable population statistics, essential for audience research.

  • Digital trading standards (JICWEBS)

JICWEBS is focused on setting good practice standards in areas such as brand safety, ad fraud and viewability, for both internal business processes and tech tools.

  • Industry Owned Auditing Services (ABC)

ABC conducts independent audits for digital ad trading companies (buyers, sellers and intermediaries) to certify they’ve met key industry agreed standards, such as those set by JICWEBS.

So, in addition to audience research, JICs provide census data counts, set good practice principles and have extensive audit expertise. The latter means there’s no need for people to ‘mark their own homework’.

Application to a globally connected ad market

It’s a fact that digital technology differs from other forms of media in the ease with which content and advertising can be delivered globally. David Pidgeon points out that it’s hard to see how JICs that only measure media in their own territories can appropriately serve our globally connected ad market. However, when setting best practice standards or auditing, geographical boundaries are much less of a factor.

In fact ABCs around the world have a long established network, IFABC (The International Federation of Audit Bureaux of Circulation) to facilitate co-operation and collaboration internationally. These links can help deal with language and cultural differences, which are other facets of operating internationally.

There’s no doubt that setting global standards is a significant challenge in itself. With many local initiatives being actively pursued, getting the necessary degree of co-ordination isn’t easy. Neither is reflecting local priorities within any scheme.

A JIC approach would probably focus first on establishing global definitions. That would provide a base for work on standards.

The financial world could provide a model. Here common definitions support both global and local standards, with companies adopting the standard appropriate to their size and sphere of operation. Global companies listed on stock exchanges report against a common set of detailed and comprehensive standards, whilst smaller companies operate to local standards appropriate to their stakeholders’ needs.

Third parties

When talking about digital ad measurement, the term ‘third party’ is used to describe the external tech provider tools which organisations use to provide measurement. It’s great to make use of these powerful tools, but again it’s one part of the overall picture.

It’s important to understand how those tools operate, which is where independent accreditation and audit comes in. Similarly, with all tools, how they’re implemented is a critical factor and here we could do more. Having checks in place regarding implementation is a valuable aid for consistent results. Turning to the financial world for another parallel, you can have the most sophisticated accounting software but that alone doesn’t mean your financial statements will show a true and fair view.

The JIC ‘gap’

At Mediatel’s Big Day of Data event, GFK’s white paper Total Media Measurement & Beyond was presented. It shows how different voices across the industry are supportive of JICs, whilst acknowledging the need for them to evolve past geographical confinement.  It also poses the question ‘Will the currency-creating function of JICs be overtaken by an auditing role?’

The answer may vary from JIC to JIC but as noted above ABC has been the UK’s industry-owned auditor for many years. Not just in print, but digital too.

Our first web traffic audits were carried out in the second half of the 1990s when we were instrumental in the creation of JICWEBS. The first Brand Safety audit was in 2006 to JICWEBS standards, and much has followed since.

Today we collaborate with BARB as the independent auditor of the census data element for IPTV delivered via broadcasters’ ‘players’ and we audit Comscore Direct census data for UKOM. We also audit a number of tech providers such as viewability and ad fraud tools.

There is much to be done in the digital arena, but if we make use of all that the JICs have to offer, perhaps the ‘gap’ isn’t as big as it might appear.

Simon Redlich is chief executive of ABC

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