Inside Report of IMRS 2014

Leendert van Meerem 28 October 2014
The International Media Research Society IMRS is an informal club of senior media research people. They convene in the fall of each even year somewhere in Europe.
This year 19 senior researchers and media experts from 6 countries spent 3 days in Cascais in Portugal to discuss current affairs as well as the future of Media and of Audience Measurement.
The theme of this conference has always been broad:  What is going on in Media Research and what is the future.  So this time the focus was on the connection between classical media research and big data, and the future of the separate media in general.  What are the future of the JIC’s, and the future of media research companies?  To focus the discussion the horizon of the future was set to 2020 for all the 11 speakers, which was to recent a horizon in my opinion, as the Audience Measurement tenders that are running currently often have a contract period that running beyond the year 2020.
Below are my main conclusions of the conference, which I personally think were shared by most of the group.  I have sometimes taken the liberty to add my own comments.
The media industry is in chaos at the moment, and audience measurement research tries to follow all the trends, and measure all these rapid changes.  We are on the threshold of a new era!

1.    Print media is dying, or at least shrinking by 20% annually.  The digitalization of print could            save them but the most prevalent innovation seems to be to put a digital version of the printed material online and further innovation is developing slowly, and may be too late.

2.    Advertisers are more and more penny wise and pound foolish and concentrate on digital advertising and digital content without always knowing what the real value of their ROI is.

3.    Media agencies are afraid of being bypassed in the process.  They are becoming more global. Global companies do not bring new solutions and the big media agencies are short term money makers, among other things with real time bidding, and maybe not the innovators of the future.  They have the headache of trying to find their competitive edge, now and in the future.  (Recently the boss of a large Dutch media agency questioned their competitiveness in the trade press.)

4.    A new generation of media (planning)experts enters the business: “They don’t read books, neither printed newspapers, they don’t wear watches, spend 10 hours a day on their mobile phone and on social media, they rarely use cash, and they think life ends at 30”.

5.    The JIC’s feel that the unanimity under their “frenemies” members is under threat:  In South Africa TV and Radio are leaving SAARF, In the UK Newspapers have announced they are leaving the NRS, In the Netherlands Newspapers have terminated their own joint promotion body and very recent Belgian Newspapers are leaving the joint process of Print audience measurement tender are examples of what is going on.  “We on our own” seem to become more important than “together we solve the common problems”.  This happens while a cross media shock wave is flooding over all silo shores, and they should work together to measure all digital content in the same unanimous way.  In some countries this process has been set in motion already.

6.    There is a general shift away from the classical medium definition (magazine, television, newspaper and radio) towards (digital) cross media platform brands.  An example from The Netherlands: Newspapers have redefined themselves to “news media”. They are a news brand together with radio and television news brands.  The top three 24/7 news on mobile in the Netherlands is brought by three big competitors who present similar offerings with text, picture and video: (magazine owned), (public broadcaster owned),  and (newspaper owned).  There are many more examples in the rest of Europe, and requires a completely new way of thinking of consequences for audience measurement.

7.    Scale seems to become more important than quality.  “Nobody knows what quality in research is anymore”.  Misconception in the industry: Big data is better because they are big in numbers, and the quality question is seldom asked (was your ad seen by machines or by people?)  The art of good sampling is lost in Europe and in the US.  The research agencies are hiding behind the “Toluna’s (as a generic type cast)” and other sample providers.

8.    Can large companies innovate? In Global Media agencies the buzzword “Convergence vs Specialization” leads to new sexy language from staff, but the integration kills specialization and vice versa.  Departments and regions are not communicating with each other but nobody dares to tell the board.  Local entrepreneurship is killed and centrally lead innovation is too slow.  (A lot of understanding nodding around the table)

9.    The media industry is all about video, television across online, mobile.  Listening and reading are more and more forgotten, but it is clear that the media brands that make money out of reading and listening are not really dead and still make money on the classical print and radio.  (mostly from analog but more and more also with a digital extensions)

10.    Market research companies have to move from classical market research (read sampling/panels/surveys) to statistically modelling with bits and pieces of big data.  There is a landslide needed to bring the knowledge together from those model makers who used to work with survey data and the new model makers/analyzers of the big data; the latter do not understand survey/panel data at all as the former do not understand big data.

11.     The big market research companies cannot always explain why their economy of scale seems to be non-existing.  Often they are more expensive than the smaller mid-sized companies.  Is shareholder value more important than anything else?

12.     It is very seldom that big data alone are a useful replacements for the classical survey audience measurement data; they all lack profiling, so as such they need to be integrated with survey data.  Fusion is often not the problem, but fusion on an ongoing basis in a daily overnight currency, this is not so simple.  Big data:  whose data is it anyway?  Who is the owner and is it people data or machine data?

13.    The near future of audience measurement is already bridging two or three or more databases.  Robert Ruud showed the new brief for TAM 2020 in Norway and the basic model is: People meters + software meters + RPD + Router logs.  The target is to measure all video watching on whatever device.  It looks like the Swedish brief last year.  Are the TAM JIC’s of the future the owners of all the video research data?  Or are the JIC’s moving from funding the whole research programme to funding the core and become only auditors of what individual members want to “bolt-on”?

14.    Especially the developers of new software meters that have to unlock and unfold the mobile data sources are handicapped:  The moment they have unlocked IOS-7 ,  IOS-8 is released, which causes new problems.  It looks like they are lagging behind the fast changing software platforms that the mobile world is inventing and launching.  And mobile usage is still growing worldwide in terms of number of users and in terms of different devices and drivers.

15.    In my (Leendert) personal opinion the only basic solution in the long term of this research lagging behind the mobile consumer technology is:
Follow the content so we can stop trying to unlock all browsers and apps and whatever they call a digital platform.  Not in 2020 but soon after, the video industry will realize that coding their content with a digital code that survives all transport through platforms, and that can be picked up by site centric routers and by devices in consumer/tam/digital panels is not only the solution to prevent hijacking their content but also to follow the content for audience measuring purposes.  I realize that coding all content needs to unite the global industry, but when the big players see the necessity the rest will follow.  Soon after 2020 the advertisers and media owners are going to realize that it is not interesting anymore to know on which device the content is watched, read or listened; it is more interesting to know that the content is consumed and the consumer has been in contact with the ad/preroll or whatever we are going to call advertising and commercial information in 2025.

These were my personal observations of what I think are the crucial developments that needs serious new thinking and innovations in our industry and it was inspiring to meet at the IMRS conference a group of senior media researchers with a lot of discussions and professional views.

.Thanks to all delegates it was an inspiring IMRS 2014 conference.

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