I wrote the Facebook My Screen report – this is the story behind it

Last week, amid claims of incorrect data, breached terms of service, and everything in between, Facebook and PwC pulled their My Screen report - which had been commissioned to provide a "balanced and independent view of the video market". Here, the report's author Ben Shepherd comes out swinging in defence of the report, and says if the My Screen report is "dodgy", then the entire industry is influenced by dodgy data.

For context, I was formerly a director at PwC and was the person responsible for the My Screen work that was commissioned. I am now the chief media officer at CHE Proximity and work across its large advertiser clients in Australia and New Zealand.

Ten months ago, I met with Facebook and posed to them a question. “Do you think marketers in Australia are clear on how video is consumed by Australian audiences – across all channels and modes of delivery?”

Our general feeling was – they weren’t. Research would either focus on pockets of consumption, or ad only, or others.

I put to them that I had an idea on how a single document could be distributed that sought to provide a wider view. I had heard so many incorrect claims around TV and video usage and they were all extreme in their views. “No one watches TV” or “no one watches digital video”, “people don’t pay attention to ads”, “everyone skips pre-rolls.” It was exhausting and old.

It would be a challenge, I told them, because there’s no single source of measurement and even disparity in time and ways things are measured. My view was, let’s use what we feel is the best available and spark a discussion. Let’s not position it as a single source of truth or a definitive piece. It was a jump off for discussion around how marketers navigate all different kinds, as well as understand and adapt to, the rapid rise of ad-free video.

My proposition to him is this is the sort of research Facebook should finance as a large participant in the industry. It is what marketers expect of them.

It needed to be independently produced and free from any influence. This was mandated in the contract and scope of work.

Facebook agreed. And PwC commenced work to produce this independent report.

The team at PwC spent hundreds of hours looking at Nielsen info, Roy Morgan, desktop research, OzTAM, overseas trends, PwC local and global pieces. PwC built a brand new panel of 3,050 people matched to the Australian population across metro and regional.

My team at PwC spent the better part of five months collating and analysing. What the PwC team wanted to understand was clear:

  • The impact of ad-free video mediums such as Netflix and Stan across demographics
  • The motivations behind the migration from linear TV to subscription ad free services
  • Users’ content preferences
  • Users’ device preferences
  • Overlap and usage of BVOD, SVOD, online video and feed/story-based video
  • Differences by demographic in terms of device, duration, content type, platforms etc
  • Understanding of usage occasion by demographics
  • Attitudes to services
  • Drivers of preference and usage

Would anyone argue these are not areas marketers and advertisers would find helpful? And could anyone argue this information exists now? I would say no.

The report set out to explain these areas and my belief is it does. There are 50-plus pages of analysis and data across all these areas and independent analysis of implications for marketers.

My team at PwC also had to use varied data sets and suppliers, and the team knew this would be contentious. So, the approach was to “run towards the fire” and openly acknowledge this.

  • For digital/web consumption, Roy Morgan is what has been used. Nielsen Digital Panel was initially used. Roy Morgan can provide web consumption data that provides de-duplication and demographic information, as well as user overlap. Nielsen also provides time spent and this we felt was important. The team knew Nielsen couldn’t measure Connected TV – and the report openly stated this within the first few pages, but there is no source of data that provides the above that does. Nielsen does however include desktop, tablet, mobile and app. And Nielsen has stated digital panel can include video. Nielsen refused to allow permission to use their data.
  • For TV and SVOD consumption, Roy Morgan was also used. Why? Roy Morgan provides the only independently verified measurement of SVOD services.
  • For TV, the team used the last seven-day figure on Roy Morgan. It was correct as we used Roy Morgan on all non-digital device consumption. This was used this only to show the sheer scale of TV. The figure used is as extracted from Roy Morgan
  • For programs ‘love to watch’, the team used Roy Morgan – again, the only source of this and commonly used and validated.
  • For top 20 2018 the team used OzTAM as printed in the Australian Government Screen Australia 2018 review.
  • All other data was taken from the PwC-built panel.

Our team at PwC debated the idea of taking all data from the PwC-built panel, but we wanted to use existing and widely used sources to ensure the data was consistent with that which marketers and agencies use.

Every year, billions of Australian ad spend is influenced by both Roy Morgan, OzTAM and Nielsen Digital Panel. This is a fact. Using it is not contentious – it is in line with how the industry functions. If this is “dodgy data” then the entire industry is influenced by dodgy data. Media companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars – if not millions – ensuring they are parts of these tools and included, as well as using them to convince ad buyers to spend with them.

In particular, it was interesting that Nielsen will sell access to use a service, but they don’t stand behind when it comes to usage. They weren’t confident enough in it – despite their own information stating it does measure video consumption on desktop, mobile, tablet and app, excluding Connected TV as per the below Nielsen graphic available online.

(Click to enlarge)

The limitations of Nielsen Digital Panel in my opinion deserve greater scrutiny, and as an industry there needs to be questions around how relevant and valid this panel – which is still actively sold and maintained – is for the future.

In the report to be released, all Nielsen numbers have been removed and Roy Morgan has been used across multiple dimensions instead. The reasons for Roy Morgan usage is consistent – it’s a panel and it allows the analysis required at the depth we believe marketers need.

Then there is OzTAM – the TV networks’ owned and operated measurement service. Good luck using these numbers too – they control all usage. You may “copy, reproduce, republish, or broadcast the VPM Content (or part thereof) to the extent required and as relevant to your ordinary business operation” says their website, but then they define what is or isn’t relevant use. I personally have received takedown requests from OzTAM for using their information previously – but selectively and only when the story wasn’t determined as positive to TV. This happened when I wrote a post on LinkedIn showing significant consumption declines in linear TV viewing across various demographics year on year (which were accurate). I’ve also been asked to take down VPM info taken from its public website. When I wrote a positive piece about Married At First Sight and its high VPM ratings the reaction was the opposite. Confusing terms of usage to be sure.

The report was not given permission by OzTAM to use OzTAM numbers either. Think TV has stated that “At Think TV, we’d rather spend time helping the industry better understand how to be as effective as possible when advertising on TV and broadcaster video on demand (BVOD)”, but this appetite for clarity and education doesn’t extend to providing access to data unless the content is to their liking.

The allegations that the data contained within the My Screen report is “dodgy” or inflated or made up is absolutely incorrect. As someone who has spent the better part of two decades advising clients on how to invest their money wisely and worked hard to push debate around transparency of fees, inventory, contracts and governance, I find the assertion disrespectful. The tools used were correct and the issue was reproduction rights not incorrect usage.

So much for wanting an informed market.

The report delivers on its intent, but the debate has ensured this is smothered. The report as read end to end paints a picture that shouldn’t be surprising to those in the industry from observation, but supports it with new data. When the report is released next week this will be evident.

The pieces that ran in the AFR and AdNews were also ones that clouded the debate. These deserve to be challenged. I am a huge reader of the AFR and have been since 1996 when I subscribed as a uni student. I read it daily and will continue to. I am convinced under their new owners the Nine Entertainment Company it will go from strength to strength. However they got it wrong here.

In response to the AFR 25 July, article written by Myriam Robin.

“It tried to argue that 17 million people watch free-to-air TV, with almost the same number using Facebook. But the TV reach figures, according to the footnotes, are calculated in the “last 7 days”. The social media figures were monthly.”

Yes, this is what the report released said and clearly acknowledged. This wasn’t argued, it was stated and sourced. The credit of the data was not in the footnotes – it was in the table, and then it was stated again in the surrounding paragraph.

“Facebook’s “single source of truth” used all sorts of non-standard metrics.”

This isn’t true. The metrics used are and continue to be industry standard. Nielsen and Roy Morgan, plus OzTAM data were used in the initial report. The report never positions as a single source of truth, so this quote has been taken out of context.

“And then there’s the fact that when considering the broadcast video on demand figures (that is, content aired by broadcasters live but available on their catch-up TV services as well), the measurement used by Facebook’s report excluded smart TVs.”

The report excluded Smart TV – and acknowledged this – as there is no way to measure it like for like with other digital properties. This is a legitimate marketer frustration – Connected TV remains cloudy around measurement at a granular level.

“Smart TV owners account for well over half of BVOD viewing.”

This number is printed without any verification. Free TV CEO Bridget Fair said in late 2018 this figure was 35%. This 50% ‘fact’ comes with no data to back it up and comments from the TV body CEO that contradict it. Confused? I am.

Think TV’s Steve Weaver also ran a piece in AdNews, dated 24 July. I appreciated the Mitchell & Webb references, but not the inaccuracies. (Note – the original of this piece referred to ‘Numberwang’ as a Peep Show reference. Peep Show is a TV show, but was the wrong reference point for this term. This usage of this TV show was incorrect and for transparency this is being acknowledged.)

“It’s clear some of the numbers have been used to inflate, some to hide and others to completely bury the real story about video consumption.”

“When numbers are used this way, it’s called numberwanging and if you numberwang too much you’ll be blind to real growth opportunities for your brand. You’ve got to dig below the surface look at all the facts before you go making any rash decisions about your media spend.”

This is just opinion isn’t it?

“According to Facebook, users spend 14 hours 42 minutes a month browsing on the platform while TV racks up 73 hours 51 minutes for the same time period. In terms of demographics, consider this: kids watch 40 hours of broadcast TV a month, teens 21 hours and 18-to-24 year-olds more than 25 hours, peaking with the often scoffed high-disposable income over 55 demo who watch in excess of 100 hours. That’s a sizeable chunk of video viewing time to consider when planning and buying media.”

This is what the report states data wise. No argument here.

“But to further dispel this notion, simply consider your own viewing patterns. Even the most avid fan is unlikely to re-watch their favourite show on BVOD after turning in for it the night before. But if you missed the broadcast, you’d absolutely be on your mobile the next day to catch up.”

Weaver is completely missing the point here. We agree at the individual show level BVOD is incremental to that particular show – the analysis was does BVOD as a platform (inclusive of all shows) bring new eyeballs to TV? New eyeballs who aren’t watching it or who watch it at very light volumes?

“Facebook would have you believe that only people over the age of 55 are watching TV. This argument has become de rigueur but it’s simply not accurate.”

This was NEVER claimed. This statement is grossly inaccurate and completely misleading. The report clearly states TV consumption for all audiences over 18 and clearly acknowledges the wider reach of TV at all demos. The variable is volume of consumption by age.

The reality here is there is a difference between data being incorrect or wrong, and some parties not liking what it says.

I stand by the report being accurate in the former and really hope that the latter isn’t what is driving the intense and aggressive take down of what I stand by as a very strong piece of work. If the industry wants robust and transparent debate then it needs to hear all sides and not throttle the distribution of information that provides clarity.

My view and PwC’s view was, and remains that, marketers needed a broad view and a broad collection of data to be more informed. This is a view I 100% stand by. TV absolutely is a channel marketers need to be invested in. The report backs this 100% and encourages advertisers and marketers to be prudent, diligent and do their research before they invest.

It’s a shame this whole piece of work turned into a bloody one-sided boxing match before it even had a chance to be read properly. Ultimately, the report once it is re released deserves to be read and the readers craft their own views. And I am confident it will be.

If we all want balanced, informed debate then surely we can allow this.

Ben Shepherd is the chief media officer at CHE Proximity. This piece was originally published on LinkedIn, and has been republished here with permission. 


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