Politics and statistics: Will we get a new era of digital leadership with our new digital rankings?

Nielsen Digital Ratings

The new Nielsen Digital Ratings give a new window on Australia’s online audiences. Nic Christensen looks at what they mean, what will come next and why the IAB won’t follow through on talks of a regional merger.

In the five plus years since Nielsen launched its hybrid digital ratings, measuring the online desktop audience, mobile usage has exploded, leaving many publishers grumbling their total audience wasn’t being counted.

It’s been a slow and rocky path to get here, with a fair bit of argey bargey along the way – and it appears there will be yet more industry politicking to come as far as industry body the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is concerned. 

The launch of the Digital Ratings (Monthly) is nine months late – although you won’t find that fact in any of the media releases today. When Nielsen won the tender they promised delivery by July 2015, and for months now a number of publishers have been complaining privately about the new mobile metrics.

Nielsen Digital RatingsNone have been willing to go on the record, but their complaints have been largely been about inconsistencies in the new mobile numbers which started to roll out last October- in particular there has been the complaint that their mobile audiences weren’t being counted accurately and also discrepancies in the data from one data set to the next.

Both Nielsen and the IAB are confident that with their various panels – 7,500 people on desktop and 2,750 on mobile, plus some 400 on both PC and smartphones – combined with Nielsen’s tagging, means they now have the online numbers right.

Perry: 'This is not a cookie cutter solution"

Perry: ‘This is not a cookie cutter solution”

Monique Perry Nielsen’s head of the media industry yesterday conceded today’s launch was behind schedule but argued there were reasons for that.

“This is not a cookie cutter solution”, said Perry. “We can’t take what we may have built in one or two other markets and role it is out here. We need to work with the industry to customise a solution to meet the specific needs of the market.

“Today is really a vital step in giving our publishers finally a comprehensive total digital audience including mobile. They have all invested heavily to follow their consumers and now we have the measurement to match that”

In the coming months, it will be interesting to see the publisher and media owner response to these new fused numbers, and the narrative the publishers shape around them.

Going through the Nielsen numbers there are some interesting insights (you can find Mumbrella publishing editor Miranda Ward’s full comprehensive wrap of all the key news insights here) but to my mind even the basic things around the size of the digital ecosystem are among the most interesting.

First off we now have a better view on the full digital ecosystem, which has 1m more users than previously thought, with Nielsen claiming there are some 17.9m computers, 13.7m smartphones and 7.5m tablets for a total online audience of 19.6m.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 11.08.17 pmThere are also new insights in the world of Australian social media with updated tangible numbers for the likes of Facebook which leads the way with a unique audience of 15.4m Australians, but also new numbers for smaller networks likes LinkedIn with 6m, Twitter 5.5m and Snapchat at 3.068m. There will be a lot of interest in the market in these numbers.

Another category which draws a lot of media attention is the race among the major news websites and here too we see the impact of the growth in the broader ecosystem with the top news websites such as News.com.au and Smh.com.au seeing substantial lifts in their audiences, going from around 3.5m a month ago when it was only desktop audience to 5.4m and 4.7m respectively.

The Guardian, which had openly challenged Nielsen over what it claimed were “inconsistencies” in its audience numbers has surged to fifth place with 2.944m, while it is also interesting that News Corp’s Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph have claimed ninth and tenth place, respectively, given how much content on those sites sits behind a paywall.

It is also worth noting that while today’s announcement is important, the true test of the new metric will be in the coming months as new sets of numbers come out and publishers grapple with the new fused data dynamic for mobile and desktop audiences and new data sets are issued.

If key publishers are unhappy with what they are seeing expect that they will likely hone in on the the “single source panelists”, who are 400 people who have both their PC and smartphones being metered.

These 400 panel members are very important in Nielsen’s new fused metric and their data will be crucial in helping the audience measurement company track cross device measurement and determine consumer behaviour.

As Stuart Pike, Nielsen’s executive director of digital audience measurement, noted yesterday: “We do something called a CHAID analysis which essentially looks into their behaviour and allows us to tease out what are the factors that influence their smartphone, tablet and desktop behaviour so we know when we get to fusion we’re using the right hooks to link people up.”

Nielsen still has further steps to take in the delivery of its audience measurement contract, with the daily ratings which had promised in “early 2016” now pushed back to “mid 2016”.

With last year’s mobile numbers being six months late, and today’s fused desktop/mobile numbers nine months late there will be a lot of eyes whether Nielsen can make this extended deadline.

Who will lead the next phase?

Fisher: returning to the IAB.

Fisher: returning to the IAB.

The other question is who will be overseeing it if they don’t. At present the two key IAB positions that of CEO and research director are vacant and late yesterday it emerged that former IAB CEO Paul Fisher had returned to the fold it was initially being briefed as a ‘project basis’.

By late evening the IAB had issued a statement, following media inquiries, saying: “Fisher will assist the board selection committee with the identification and recruitment of the new CEO”.

According to those who have been dealing with IAB, Fisher is already making his presence felt in market and there are a number of industry people tipping that the former CEO may well retake the role in a permanent capacity, particularly given the absence of an IAB research director at the moment.

Fisher is a somewhat polarising figure in the digital space. During his time in charge there was perception that the IAB represented mainly just “the big four” publishers – News Corp, Fairfax, Mi9 and Yahoo7.

Current IAB CEO Alice Manners, who formally steps down next month, has worked to broaden that perception with a “big tent” mentality and narrative in market, aimed at bringing on board smaller publishers and technology partners, who also play an important role in this space.

Media buyer Danny Bass, Manners and former IAB chair Mark Britt launching the 'big tent' initiative.

Media buyer Danny Bass, Manners and former IAB chair Mark Britt launching the ‘big tent’ initiative back in 2014.

Within the IAB’s new “big tent” the return of the former ring master – even on a temporary basis – will not be welcomed in all quarters. Eyebrows were raised back in 2012 when Fisher quit the IAB to take a regional role with Nielsen, the company which had been awarded the multi-million dollar digital audience measurement contract under his tenure in 2011.

Dimpoulous heads the IAB Singapore.

Dimpoulous heads the IAB Singapore.

Mumbrella also understands from multiple sources that some members of the IAB in Australia, concerned about events here, have sounded out the IAB in Singapore about a potential merger that would – if it were to eventuate, and that’s a big if  – see the two digital bodies combine forces, with the aim of creating a single APAC industry body to work on key digital industry issues like viewability, ad fraud, privacy and industry standards.

Under what is believed to be a nascent proposal it is thought that an APAC body would be headed by IAB Singapore CEO Miranda Dimopoulous. Dimopoulous did not respond to requests for comment on whether the IAB Singapore was approached, but like Manners has worked to broaden the base and membership of the digital industry body within her market.

It is also interesting to note that IAB Australia chair and Yahoo7 CEO Ed Harrison yesterday professed ignorance of any approach to the IAB Singapore telling Mumbrella: “We are a very different organisation to the rest of Asia Pacific. There are no discussions or plans for a merger of that nature.”

Any such move would likely face strong resistance here and while some will argue regional problems on things like viewability, bots and ad fraud need regional solutions, many in Australia would fear our voice would be lost in a regional entity.

But whoever takes the key digital industry leadership position of IAB Australia CEO role permanently will have a big agenda that includes not only the oversight of the Nielsen digital measurement, but also the shit fight that has become viewability – where GroupM has gone one direction, IPG Mediabrands another and the three other major advertising groups are standing there impatiently waiting for the publishers to agree on a local standard. There’s also a broader list that at its heart should be about making the digital future a viable one for more than just a couple of global online publishers.

While the IAB is fond of trumpeting from the rooftops its quarterly grow figures – at last count “online ad expenditure was poised to break the $6bn mark” at $5.9bn – but it is often glossed over that most of that revenue goes to two members: Google and Facebook.

The latter has told media agencies their target revenue for calendar year was $500m, a target they are thought to have hit, while the “digital Death Star” Google is writing somewhere between $2bn and $3bn. Together the two companies which don’t even produce any original content dwarf the rest of local digital industry, and they are only getting bigger.

It’s for this reason today’s Nielsen online numbers matters and so too does the question of IAB leadership in this market.

In 2016, we generally agree that a digital future is largely inevitable for most media. Regardless of whether a publisher/broadcaster is streaming video, audio or online written content these new Nielsen numbers will matter.

We now have our best view to date on the size of the digital ecosystem, but as industry we need to ensure the debate about our future isn’t just dominated by the four old legacy players, nor to the two new insurgents, who for the moment at least have seized a very large part of the digital revenue pie.

The media industry as a whole should step up and take ownership of the digital debate and the industry body at the centre of it.

To do nothing sees the Australian industry largely surrender its future to either four legacy publishers, who arguably have a love/hate relationship with digital, or the two online giants who are increasingly swallowing the Australian media scene as we once knew it.

Nic Christensen is the media and technology editor of Mumbrella. 


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