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Talking Metrics with Thinkbox

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I was invited over to Thinkbox last week to talk metrics with their Research & Strategy Director, David Brennan. 

For those of you who don’t know Thinkbox was set up three years ago to market the main UK broadcasters’ (C4, C5, GMTV, ITV, SkyMedia, Turner, Viacom) offerings to advertisers.  Not an easy job in the current climate where the prevailing view is that TV is on borrowed time as its financial model gradually erodes. 

That said, TV is still big business and will probably be so for a few years yet.  Or as one media Grand Fromage described it to me last year: "Everyone knows the bike it’s broken, but for now it’s the only bike we’ve got".  One of ThinkBox’s main messages is that people are watching more TV – not less.  Which I can believe.  Another one is that TV advertising, even at PVR-speed, is still very effective.  Which I think is *ahem* contentious.  And thirdly that the TV’s future in the joined-up media ecosystem is exciting.  (Thinkbox call it TV’s Third Age).  Which makes me think – what is TV?  The landscape is so far removed from any traditional connotations of the family unit relaxing together…

around the goggle-box as to be meaningless.  Let’s look at a few scenarios to see how ‘TV’ is shifting:

  • In my home we have a Freeview box with a 160GB hardrive, a small DVD library and a subscription to ilovefilm.  So almost all my viewing is time-shifted. 
  • On the way to Thinkbox meeting I saw three twenty-something lads on a train watching football on a PSP.  So their viewing was location-shifted. 
  • I have a friend who has no TV but buys a lot of DVDs and watches them on his laptop.  So his viewing is device-shifted. 
  • Another buddy has BitTorrent continually ‘dripping’ into the servers that sit in his flat which are then saved as a ‘best of’ library on Mac Minis which he loans out to friends.  Which is law-shifting.
  • A relative of mine has a 7ft Hi-Def plasma screen in a dedicated room where the only viewing is film and football.  Which is wallet-shifting.
  • When it comes to live programming like football, the pub is often the venue for my circle.  Call it venue-shifting. 
  • Plenty of people are choosing to take their TV in sociable snack-size packages such as Room Mates on MySpace TV and Kate Modern on Bebo.  A sort of format-shifting. 
  • Others have forsaken TV and replaced it with submersive gaming such as World of Warcraft or consoles.  Which is reality-shifting. 
  • Then there are consoles which increasingly are equipped to handle films and programming or which have in fact just morphed into TV-like screens.  So, the software is shifting.
  • And then there’s Slingbox which allows those on the road to call up content from the hardrive in their home and watch it on a laptop.  Which can be time-zone shifting.
  • And then 4oD, the million strong BBCi Player and ITV.com – all possibly due to be wrapped up into the new Kangaroo platform.  Channel-shifting?

So, are these all ‘TV’?  The purpose of my conversation at Thinkbox was to discuss the changing world of metrics.  But with such a variety of ‘TV’ focused leisure occurring, the challenge is considerable.  No wonder BARB finds itself creaking under the pressure.  It was designed to measure yesteryear’s Eric & Ernie era.  Not a world where Moore’s Law allows us to shift TV in multiple disparate directions on a whim.

What’s the answer?  Well watch this space.  Thinkbox are reaching out to lots of other organisations, including the IAB, to develop collaborative approaches which may help create metrics that shift and stretch along with the medium. 

However, I left my conversation with David wondering if maybe we will never have a central metrics marketplace again.  In a world where the menu of media is so great and the tastes of the customers so varied, maybe the only approach to metrics is for individual marketeers and brands to carefully select their own tapas, decide what tastes good and add a few spices of their own.  And maybe having found particularly potent flavour combinations or a nice Vino Tinto to wash down their media metrics menus, brands will share their tips to create a marketplace that learns and benefits all.  But, of course, such openness might just be a shift too far.

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