The MRC’s Cross-Platform Audience Standard Is Ready For Prime Time

The Media Rating Council (MRC) released the final version of its cross-platform audience measurement standard on Wednesday – the cherry on top of an eight-year industry effort to produce a framework for video measurement across TV, OTT, desktop and mobile.

MRC CEO and executive director George Ivie has joked that the road to get here was “kind of like giving birth, but maybe a little worse.”

The industry has been incrementally inching toward a cross-media measurement standard since 2011, when the Making Measurement Make Sense initiative first launched as a joint project of the ANA, 4As and IAB with the MRC helping to facilitate.

Since then, the MRC has written a series of standards on viewability, invalid traffic filtration and digital audience measurement. The cross-platform standard is a culmination of all that work, said David Gunzerath, the council’s SVP and associate director.

Most of what was in the draft, which was sent out for a 60-day public comment period in March, made it into the final standard.

The threshold for video viewability, for example, is set at 100% of pixels in view for at least two seconds – that applies for both digital video and linear TV – and measurement providers are required to dedupe impressions and filter for both sophisticated and invalid traffic. Vendors also need to report whether audio is on or off, if they’re able.

But there is one big change between the draft and the final product: how the standard deals with duration weighting, a method that credits video impressions based on how long they’re viewed.

Rather than calculating duration-weighted impressions using 30 seconds as the common rubric, as proposed in the draft, the final standard gauges duration based on the variable length of the specific ad in question, whatever it may be.

In other words, it’s not fair to judge a short ad by the same standard as a long one and vice versa.

The MRC worried that a relative approach to duration weighting could create a bias that would favor shorter-form ads, since it’s easier to get people to watch a six-second ad to completion than to get them to stick around for 30 seconds.

But the council received a lot of feedback from advertisers arguing for more flexibility, which the MRC acknowledged and included in the final standard.

“Say you watch three seconds of a six-second ad; the duration weighted viewable impression metric will be different than if you watch three seconds of a 15-second ad or a 30-second ad,” Gunzerath explained.

There are still some players like Facebook, however, that claim duration isn’t relevant, and that ad effectiveness isn’t correlated to how long someone is exposed.

And so the MRC is keeping an open mind. Unlike the rest of the standard, which goes into effect immediately, the duration weighting provision won’t become a required component of audience measurement until 2021 so as to give other groups time to do their own research on the subject.

Duration weighting aside, the MRC anticipates that measurement companies, like Nielsen and Comscore, will start rolling up their sleeves on accreditation against the freshly-minted standard.

In the past, measurement providers have been reluctant to submit their cross-platform products for accreditation, because they were waiting for a formal standard to be set. Nielsen was happy to have its Digital Ad Ratings product under an audit, for example, but not its Total Audience Rating products.

“Now that we have concrete assessment criteria to evaluate these products, we think they’ll be more willing to enter the process,” Gunzerath said. “There will also be marketplace motivations like their customers pushing for them to be audited, and the desire for competitive advantage.”

With the cross-platform measurement standard now mostly squared away, the next priority on the MRC’s agenda is to start work on a standard to measure ad effectiveness and outcomes.

“Frankly, there is a lot of bad science being conducted in the marketplace, and we’d like to help improve that in as near term a time frame as possible,” Gunzerath said.

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