Media buying and selling is set for a fundamental revolution

It is time radically to rethink the very basis of media buying and selling.

For decades the trading currency for most media has been based on consumer media patterns measured by a non overlapping set of “industry” research metrics.

There are some deep-rooted and now institutionalised problems with this system.  The idea for instance that we do well to base pricing on what happened last year in this market place where so much changes so often seems flaky at the moment.  When a disrupter of business practices as fundamental as search engines and the internet comes along and thrives, then it is wrong to expect there to be no seismic impact on other media.  The media landscape is still due for more disruption.  Mobile advertising and search is bound to upset again the current balance.

Furthermore it is time to accept that the current idea of “joint industry research” is and has been for some time a misnomer that does nothing to help in these difficult times. The industry I am employed in encompasses all media channels.  Planners have always looked to invest across channels and now more buying teams are going to become a single investment department working across all media (as MediaCom’s buying teams have done).

But we seem no closer to an agreed industry audience measurement across media that could be used for instance to calculate a true net rating than we were five years ago.  Certainly media research within each medium has evolved.  But the idea of being able to trade and evaluate performance across all media channels with a consistent definition of audiences is not in sight, nor a consistency in terms of the speed of release of data with TV data available after 7 days (with some available overnight) and Comscore and Neilsen releasing online data after 4-6 weeks.

Newspaper and magazine readership is still defined by NRS as “anyone who has read for two minutes or more”.  Posters are measured in terms of anyone who realistically could view the poster, netted down by visibility factors.  TV – viewers are people in the room when the TV is on.  Comscore measure online audiences with a much bigger panel – 50,000 pcs mainly in the home.  Radio requires you to listen for at least 5 minutes within the quarter hour measured.  Great thought and a huge amount of expertise and investment has gone into each individual measurement system by medium, but now we need the same level of expertise to devise audience measurement that works across all media.

It is time to move away from the current trading based on different ways of measuring audiences by channel and instead work towards a cross industry currency.  If it can’t be based on audience exposure then perhaps it will need to be based on what works client by client instead.  There is more than one model that could replace the current structures but in any case it is time for a complete overhaul.

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