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Broadcast and audience measurement are changing: here’s what the future holds

Partho Dasgupta
26th Mar 2019
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There is no disputing the fact that technology has shrunk, and continues to shrink the world. If the previous century was about bringing people together with advances in transportation technology, the digital revolution has placed the entire world at our fingertips, literally!


But my contention is that in today’s age, technology is actually shrinking time, relatively speaking.


Technology today invades every part of our life, changing the way businesses are run, the way people go about performing routine activities like shopping, and even how we interact with each other. Technology is shaping our lives, and also shaping itself to fit into our lifestyles. It is disrupting and challenging the status quo every day – not only in digital domains like communication and ecommerce, but also in ‘brick and mortar’ sectors such as auto, construction and healthcare.


Media, particularly broadcast media, is one sector where technology has re-defined the “rules of the game”, and continues to have a profound impact on production, distribution, consumption, formats, choices and more.


Primetime has been challenged by, and yet co-exists with, my-time. In India, particularly, traditional linear TV viewership continues to grow, even as digital video consumption is gaining. The number of TV channels is increasing every year, with more and more services dedicated to regional markets.


Simultaneously, falling cost of data coupled with a highly vibrant supply stream is throwing up a mind-boggling choice of content, which is fueling video viewing on mobile/hand-held devices. BARC India data indicates that unlike in the west, Indian families may not be adopting a second TV set, but the mobile is being adapted as the “second screen”. The firehose of content available within the same 24-hour day is eating into personal time. There is so much to watch and so little time, is why I say technology is shrinking time.


The lines between traditional linear TV, cinema and online video are also blurring, and I say this not only from the platform perspective, but about the content itself. VOD (video–on-demand) platforms are redefining the entertainment industry and emerging as powerhouses of content, which is amplified by their marketing muscle and the distribution ecosystem.


Starting out as a DVD rental service, Netflix has metamorphosed into an online streaming giant, and is now re-shaping rules of the entertainment industry. It is perhaps the first VOD platform to be a member of the Motion Picture Association of America, and this definitely tells us something about the path on which the M&E industry is headed.


Technology is certainly redefining the way people consume content. Simultaneously, original content has become a huge pull factor for the audiences and these platforms are investing heavily in producing their own content, rather than just acquiring a library. This has opened up new avenues for up and coming content creators, and is also lucrative for established directors and writers. 


Big Data is enabling media content to appeal to individual users by offering personalised recommendation based on usage patterns. Regional content is also an area of increased focus, be it general entertainment, movies, music or sports. Even as all this plays out, User Generated Content continues to boom and enrich platforms such as YouTube and Instagram TV.


As India’s infrastructure improves, and the competition among platforms becomes fierce, we are bound to see more innovations in the content space. How are all these phenomena impacting audience measurement – the chain-link that holds together and powers the broadcast sector, you may ask? Like all contra-impacts of technology, it is enabling as well as challenging the way audiences are being tracked and accounted for.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is being increasingly put to use to make data processing and analytics faster, and more reliable. At the same time, technology is also throwing up challenges for audience measurement. The biggest of them is to plan and prepare for a future that is unpredictable beyond a certain point in time because of technology’s disruptive DNA.


Looking ahead, media and audience fragmentation is sure to progress rapidly as an increasing array of both media content and media distribution channels become available to consumers. Simultaneously, audience autonomy will grow as audiences gain more control over how and when they consume media.


Here again, technologies like Sample Return Path Data (SRPD) offer solutions to these challenges. SRPD will allow measurement of narrow and highly fragmented audiences.


Many technologies now allow audiences to ‘avoid the commercials’ which are the primary financing means of media. Traditional measurement technologies are based on exposure to content, or in some cases, based on recall. However, growing audience autonomy begs the question whether exposure is the correct measure or other dimensions such as engagement or purchase consideration should be accounted for.


With the lines getting blurred, and media getting fragmented like never before, the key questions that arise are ‘What value does each platform add to the content? And ‘How much incremental audience can each platform bring to the advertiser’


One or two years down the line, it is inevitable that “Pipes & Screens” will not matter from an audience measurement perspective. Advertisers, content producers and platforms will chase the viewer as they flit from one content to another, interacting with more than one screen and delivery channel. The job of audience measurement will be to keep pace with these changes and deliver a comparable cross-platform solution that allows assessment of real returns on investment (ROI).


The ones who overcome these emerging challenges with technology solutions will win the battle. The big fish will not eat the small fish, but a fast fish will eat the slow one.


(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.) 

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