AT&T, State Farm Will Test TV Measurement Choices in Discovery Deal

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AT&T and State Farm are the latest big advertisers to experiment with new ways of figuring out just who is watching TV – and the commercials that support it.

The two marketers are among those who are taking part in an alliance between Discovery and Omnicom Media Group. Under the pact, a handful of Omnicom clients, including the telecom and insurance giants, will test new ways of tabulating linear TV audiences using Comscore and VideoAmp, and examine recent viewership data. Discovery is also working with OMG clients from the automotive, retail and consumer-packaged goods sectors.

“This is the precursor to what we hope will be, for some advertisers, for at least some of their money, to put it through an alternate currency for the 2022-2023 season,” says Jon Steinlauf, Discovery’s chief U.S. ad sales officer, in an interview.

Discovery is the latest media company to offer alternatives for measuring viewer activity of its programs as the longtime provider of such data, Nielsen, faces a prolonged bout of scrutiny. The TV networks and Nielsen have for months been locked in a public battle over how audiences ought to be measured. Nielsen, which has acknowledged flaws in several of its systems, no longer has the accreditation of the Media Rating Council, an industry body that backs specific measurement methodologies. Meanwhile, the networks are eager to get counts of their streaming and mobile audiences.

Discovery’s moves are not to be taken lightly. The company, which operates Food Network, HGTV and Discovery Channel, among others, is expected over the next few weeks to take over WarnerMedia, giving it oversight of TNT, TBS and HBO Max, among other outlets. That acquisition will give Discovery more heft in the sector. WarnerMedia is already pursuing its own efforts to give advertisers new audience methodologies.

David Zaslav, Discovery’s CEO, has not been shy in the recent past about his feelings about how audience measurement needs to develop. “You have Google and Facebook, you have these technology companies [that] know exactly who’s watching, exactly who they are and what they’re buying and what they want to read,” Zaslav said during a call with analysts last May.  “And we’re dealing with this antiquated system of measurement that advertises love because they can rely on something that fundamentally undercounts all of us. As great as our industry is, we haven’t been able to get Nielsen to get their act together.” Discovery recently became a minority owner of Open AP, an industry consortium that works to define audience segments advertisers can buy against across multiple media companies.

Advertisers are starting to look for new concepts as well, particularly as the big audiences for traditional TV start to splinter around new digital behaviors. “Understanding that the video currency of the future has to better align with our advertisers’ objectives, we need to be transacting cross-platform on metrics that directly relate to our advertisers’ audiences and are reliably measured,”  said Geoff Calabrese, chief investment officer of Omnicom Media Group, in a statement. “OMG’s partnership with Discovery will accelerate our ability to deliver on this imperative for our clients.”

Nielsen is in the midst of its own reconfiguration. The company expects to launch a new cross-platform methodology in months to come and is also overhauling its tracking of viewer impressions of commercials, no matter the venue in which they might appear.

Discovery has been holding discussions with several big media-buying operations, says Chris Ryan, Discovery’s senior vice president of ad sales research and strategy. “Our hope is to have multiple tests with multiple agencies,” he says.

As more media companies strike bespoke measurement deals with new vendors, they run the risk of turning the process of buying TV ad inventory into a less efficient process. Many big advertisers may balk at having to buy commercial time and space in different ways according to the network with which they are having discussions. “We have to try to create standards,” says Ryan. “It’s something else we have to do as an industry.”

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