Earlier this week, the Out-of-home Video Advertising Bureau (OVAB) released their first "Audience Metrics Guidelines" for the digital out-of-home industry. Hoping to establish the standard currency for measuring ad exposure in diverse out-of-home networks, the bureau certainly had a tough challenge ahead of them. Combined with the fact that network operators, ad agencies and marketing support vendors needed to agree on the standard metric and measurement techniques, it's a near-miracle that OVAB was able to publish anything. But whether or not their first attempt at a unified measurement criterion is the right one remains to be seen.
"AUA" is the new "OTS"
As you may have already read elsewhere on the web or in OVAB's full report (PDF), the bureau created a new metric called the Average Unit Audience. This metric accounts for the different dwell times, traffic patterns and ad durations found on the hundreds of disparate networks out there today. OVAB defines the AUA as "the number and type of people exposed to the media vehicle with an opportunity to see a unit of time equal to the typical advertising unit." Seems straightforward enough to start. Using traffic information supplied by the venue and manual or electronic counting information to give an estimate of the number of people that might happen past a digital screen, we can calculate a simple audience number. From there, we cross the typical duration of stay in an area where the screen is visible with the average duration of an ad in the screen's content loop to determine the number of opportunities to see that there might have been.
Interestingly, "manual or electronic" counting procedures means that Nielsen's PRISM and POPAI's MARI could both yield the necessary underlying data. However, there's an additional component that will prove more difficult to get, and that's the percentage of potential viewers who actually noticed the screen. Short of doing exit interviews or using electronic glance measurements, that number is probably going to be more expensive -- especially for smaller networks -- to come up with. The other potentially tricky component of the equation is the type of audience that might be coming past the screen at a given location. To help provide a standard understanding of what an audience type is, OVAB gives us a demographic questionnaire that could presumably be filled out by each venue, or perhaps by a third party measurement company.
What if you had a party but nobody came?
You can make your own decision as to whether to incorporate OVAB-appropriate measurements into your own network and tool set. The roughly 40-page document is a bit on the dry side (I fell asleep twice while reading it), but quite straightforward, and ultimately is a very good first draft of a straightforward industry metric. There's another question that's been on my mind, though: what if all this talk about measurement is just a stalking horse for the media planning companies and agencies that have been reluctant to dive into digital out-of-home, and in particular, marketing at-retail? With established standards for measurement -- presumably ones that have been blessed by those companies most likely to make purchasing decisions based on them -- advertisers should no longer have an excuse to not buy time on participating networks. Only time will tell if this is really the case. Well, time and transparency, that is, since we're going to have to rely on OVAB-compliant networks telling us whether their sales have improved or not since adopting the standards. That, or we'll have to get agencies and buyers to tell us that yes, they are buying time now, and yes, the metrics made all the difference. Neither seem particularly likely to me, but OVAB has every incentive to get the word out that their chosen approach is working, so perhaps they'll be able to persuade member companies to disclose their successes and failures.
Is it time to switch your selling strategy?
By now, you're probably wondering whether it's worth it to modify your existing ad sales strategy to utilize OVAB's standardized metrics. You might even be asking yourself if there's any value in measuring digital signage in the first place, or if you should focus on behavioral analysis instead. Considering that we're coming into a very busy time for retailers, we're in a recession, and these metrics are brand-spanking new, I don't think you should rush to adopt them. At least, not yet. If you're already reasonably successful at selling screen time, don't change a thing right now. If you're struggling, you should identify what's making advertisers reluctant to sign up with you. Because I guarantee that if you go up to an advertiser and say "do you need more metrics? What if I did this extra measurement for you?" they'd all say "yes!" After all, your additional work is free for them, and prevents them from having to make an actual decision. But if it's not really the thing they're after (which might be better placement, lower prices, etc.), you've just done a bunch of work for no gain.
Who should think about adopting the standards right away?
This one seems easier to answer. If you use a network aggregation service like SeeSaw, you should probably adopt the standards. That will help them place more ads on your screens, and make a better case to advertisers in general. If you have a large regional or nation-wide network, you should consider adopting the standards. Not in place of what you're doing already, but as a supplement to help you gain a foothold with national advertisers. If you already do a lot of business with national advertisers, you might want to consider adopting the standards, if only because they're the most likely to work with media buyers who are more familiar with OVAB. But there are real costs associated with this level of measurement, and as Suzanne Alecia, OVAB's President, noted, audience measurement standards will continue to evolve. With that in mind, you might want to consider waiting for revision 2.0.
Now that the wait is over, what do you think? Will the OVAB standards usher in a new era of ad buying by big agencies? Or will buyers and planners find some new reason not to invest big in our industry?