2014: Things that made me go 'Hmmm'

15 Dec 2014  |  Richard Marks 
2014: Things that made me go 'Hmmm'

Research The Media's Richard Marks makes five predictions and one wish for media research in 2015.

Tomorrow (16 December) the judges for MediaTel's first ever Media Research Awards are meeting to review and shortlist the entries. I've been working my way through an almost overwhelming number of entries over the last week. Reviewing the best research projects of the last year has put me in something of a retrospective mood, particularly as we enter December, a month dominated by more lists than BuzzFeed can shake a stick at.

So let's look back at the year in media and highlight half a dozen 2014 developments that have implications directly for media research, along with a few predictions for next year. This is an entirely personal, non-definitive list of not necessarily the most important events, but things that caught my eye or made me go 'hmmm'.

1) TV Viewing Trends. In November 2013 BARB published a very helpful document looking at trends in TV over the last few years. I wrote a column referring to it here. The sequel hasn't been released yet, but you can run your own basic analyses on their site, so I had a look at comparable viewing hours over the last few years for the last full 2014 month, November.

In 2010, the first year of the contract, weekly viewing in November totalled 29 hours 47 minutes. This November it was 26:56 per week - down 10% since 2010 and 4% year-on-year. Looking across other months this is far from an exception.

Will 2014 go down as the year in which Generation Youtube really started to impact the TV ratings? This can be seen in other countries, as shown in Eurodata Worldwide's latest One Television Year In The World publication, with quite alarming falls in 15-24 viewing in a number of countries across Europe.

Expect full year 2014 TV viewing to be down on past years. Thinkbox has done a fantastic job in winning the 'TV isn't dead' battle. Television is very much alive, but it is changing both in terms of devices and in terms of what the word means.

The next challenge will be to explain exactly what TV actually is in 2015 and beyond - and therefore what BARB should and shouldn't measure. Is the fall in viewing due to youngsters watching content not categorised as TV, like the ubiquitous Zoella, or due to BARB not yet measuring mobiles and tablets in the currency?

Will 2014 go down as the year in which Generation YouTube really started to impact the TV ratings?"

2) Set Top Box Data. In October Kantar Media sold its US Set Top Box (RPD) data business to competitor Rentrak. This foray into the US TV market certainly ended more successfully than its attempt in the 80s (as AGB) to launch PeopleMeters in the US, which saw it sent back home with crippling debts and into the arms of a predatory Robert Maxwell. At least this time Kantar Media got $98m in Rentrak stock for its trouble. However, it does show how difficult it is for non-US companies to get any 'traction' in the US TV market.

Prediction: Kantar's move does reflect that the RPD argument has moved from RPD being the future of TV measurement to it being part of the future. Hybrid is now proclaimed as the 'one ring to rule them all'. However, has anyone cracked how to actually do it? A number of projects on the launchpad in 2015 should provide the answer.

3) Taylor Swift. Talking of Kantar, I can't help but notice that according to the Guardian's 2014 Media List, Taylor Swift is now a more influential figure in UK media than Sir Martin Sorrell.

I bet the judges made that choice with a cheeky smile on their faces. Taylor's inclusion is because it is a little known fact that her father was one of the founding partners in Taylor Nelson, the forerunner of TNS, now owned by Sorrell. No, wait, I am told that is wrong, it's because of her brave stand against the demon Spotify.

There are, however, two sides to every story and Billy Bragg (an artist more in my demographic) makes a convincing argument that Spotify's transparency is putting the spotlight on the record companies themselves, rather than ripping off the artists.

Saying that ad spend needs to move from TV to digital is as meaningful as me saying I want to move from Fulham to London"

Prediction: It remains to be seen exactly how much UK ad space Taylor Swift will trade in 2015, but Sir Martin is notoriously competitive and his collaboration with David Guetta, an EDM version of 'We Are Never Getting Back Together'' will be released in April.

4) Nielsen & Facebook. Kantar rival Nielsen did a deal in July this year for Facebook in the US to provide them with aggregated demographic details that can be aligned with smartphone and tablet TV viewing.

Whilst to the best of my knowledge this is not yet used within the US currency itself, Nielsen EVP Megan Clarken did highlight it at last month's ASI Symposium as a viable source of demographics going forward.

Along with Nielsen's deal with Adobe, Kantar's global deal with Twitter and comScore teaming with Google, expect a further blurring of the lines between 'traditional research institutes' and the sparkly connected companies.

However, noticeable for their absence from this speed dating game are Amazon and Apple, presumably because their business models are not advertising supported. This raises the danger that, as research gets more 'connected', significant holes will open up in the quilts of data that are being constructed that no amount of modelling will fill.

5) Newsbrands. Of course this was the year that the NPA finally lost faith in the NRS in the UK and led a new tender process for a cross-platform newsbrand measurement system. Tenders were submitted by hopeful suitors at the start of December.

Prediction: Expect tension between the traditional research purists, who attend international symposia on the best practice in readership research and the online opportunists. Newsbrands are understandably desperate for cross-platform reach and engagement measures that demonstrate to advertisers exactly why their significant editorial investment is worth more than just bunging out cat video top tens.

However, that will not come cheaply or without some 'out of the box' thinking. That tension won't be limited to readership research as convenience samples become more and more attractive to media owners and planners. This will make it even more important that the basic principles of survey research sampling are communicated in a way that doesn't make anyone under the age of 35 fall asleep in the process.

6) The 'D' Word.
Finally, a Christmas wish rather than a prediction. Back in March, eMarketer released a survey, the headline for which was widely reported by Marketing Week, the FT and other organisations who really should have known better, as 'Consumers to spend more time on digital than TV in 2014'.

Leaving aside any detailed analysis of the survey itself, let's reflect on that heading. With analogue switch off a while back now, what aspect of TV isn't digital? What proportion of 'digital' is actually TV content on other platforms?

Yet the headline wasn't challenged by the trade press and other surveys throughout the year have made similar claims that are a complete non-sequitur. Saying that ad spend needs to move from TV to digital is as meaningful as me saying I want to move from Fulham to London.

Wish: Agencies and trade press to institute a 'swearbox' system for any headlines or articles that portray TV and digital as somehow mutually exclusive or rival entities. They should then go one stage further and ban the word 'digital' completely.

The connected companies themselves don't use the word any longer, so why does the media industry cling to it as a fig leaf of modernity? In actuality it is as dated as products in the 1950s described as being 'electrical'. As Nigel Walley put it on Twitter last month:

@nwalley: "NEW RULE FOR 2015! You can only write 'Digital' on your business card if someone else in your company has 'Analogue' on theirs"

Anyway, I must get back to reading those awards entries. Happy Christmas and see you in 2015.


Richard Marks director of Research The Media Ltd

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