The Next Big Thing in measurement

How legacy research companies are sparking a rebirth of audience measurement.


This is part of this year’s Next Big Thing series, tracking the latest technological developments set to be a bigger part of marketers’ lives. Check out what’s new and emerging in other areas here.

This story originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of strategy.

Much like the cultural transformation of the Renaissance, sparked by a return to classical ways of thinking, the audience measurement industry in Canada is in the midst of its own kind of rebirth, argues Rob Young, SVP of PHD Canada.

Vividata has forayed into specialized product studies – including new ethnic consumer research – and has partnered with other companies on a passive media measurement initiative. Nielsen and digital marketing intelligence platform Pathmatics are investing in new ways to measure internet impressions and ad expenditures. And since 2017, media research consultancy Audience Insights has partnered with Ulster Media on a Canadian Podcast Listener Survey to shed light on the growing audience segment. Each initiative is “transformative” in its own way, Young says, and points to an industry-wide push for greater cross-platform audience measurement in Canada.

“These measurement initiatives are not proposals or plans or ‘nice-to-haves,’” he says. “They are emerging as well-funded and fully formed initiatives that are being purchased and utilized by marketers and their media agencies.”

Mass disruption in the Canadian media landscape over the last ten years resulted in advertisers giving greater precedence to actionable data-based audience tracking, according to Young. As a result, advertisers began holding back their investments in more traditional survey-based research subscriptions. But as the limitations of relying on clickstream, data-based measurement emerge – for one, they provide information on the devices and browsers being used, not the viewers and listeners themselves – Young says legacy media research companies are responding with new methods that offer more balance.

The impending launch of a Video Audience Measurement (VAM) tool by Numeris – the country’s TV and radio ratings provider – is a notable example of the investments being made. VAM has been spearheaded by Neil McEneaney, who was hired as president and CEO of Numeris in 2016 to help develop its cross-platform measurement strategy.

VAM promises to fix what has been a longstanding pain point for the TV industry – poor visibility into consumers’ viewing habits across multiple platforms and devices – by bringing together linear and non-linear audience measurement across platforms and helping advertisers more accurately track ROI. VAM data is expected to become commercially available next year.

The tool will provide “a holistic digital-plus-linear audience measurement to allow both advertisers and agencies… to be able to manage it better [and] have greater visibility, and for broadcasters to strategically invest in content and monetize it,” says McEneaney. And as a third-party audience measurement partner, Numeris is able to come to the table with a solution that is “standardized, consistent and audited.”

A few years ago, it didn’t matter as much that the industry couldn’t adequately capture data outside of linear broadcast, because non-linear consumption was still in the single-digit percentiles, says Alan Dark, SVP of media sales at Rogers and chair of the VAM Steering Committee. However, with more viewers turning to non-linear channels, the new tool aims to capture all of that data within one ecosystem. “It gives marketers a much more holistic view of all the consumption that is happening around these assets,” Dark says.

“It really does open up a door where you can still go after a mass audience with maximum reach, or you can start to tailor different platforms with different formats of messaging to cut through the clutter or to more narrowly focus your marketing dollars on a narrower segment of a market.”

Outside of VAM, Numeris has also been working with the CRTC on a new industry measurement system for set-top boxes, which should further shed light on the current video landscape, McEneaney says. Together, that work and VAM “are just different components of a cross-platform measurement strategy that are going to snap together when all the pieces are live and position the industry to have better tools to plan, manage, invest and get value for their dollars.”

Numeris is not the only legacy company forging new paths to improve audience measurement.

In August, Vividata joined forces with market research tech company RealityMine, as well as data collection specialists Ipsos and Delvinia, to launch what it claims is the first passive measurement panel of its kind in Canada. The panel will collect mobile behavioural data – such as search, browsing, app use, ecommerce and audio and video streaming, coupled with location data – from Canadians who have given consent.

The cross-channel measurement initiative, first announced in November last year, has the potential to help advertisers better understand their audiences and reduce the costs involved in subscribing to a slew of specialized media studies, according to Young.

Pat Pellegrini, president and CEO of Vividata, believes there’s “a phenomenal amount of potential” in the program, as it will open a window into cross-platform and cross-media measurement, as well as purchase and post-purchase customer journeys.

A first set of data is expected to be released in the last quarter of 2019, with additional studies to follow in 2020. The research will be folded into Vividata’s Survey of the Canadian Consumer, as well as its growing list of specialized studies conducted through Vivintel, its recently launched custom content research division.

Pellegrini also led the launch of the first syndicated and widely distributed ethnic consumer research study exploring the media consumption habits, interests and demographic profile of Chinese Canadians. The first report is expected to roll out in mid-October, at which point Vividata will turn its attention to the South Asian community – and proceed to other groups from there, depending on industry interest.

Pelligrini says he arrived at Vividata in 2017 with the mandate to create consumer products that would expand its portfolio. For him, the launch of a first syndicated ethnic survey speaks to the collaboration happening across the Canadian media industry. In the U.S., similar studies have the financial backing of individual broadcasters, media companies and agencies. “Here, it’s much trickier,” he says, adding that Canadian initiatives, given the tripartite nature of Vividata, requires support from the industry. “You really need to get everybody working together.”