This is a comment piece I was asked to write for Broadcast magazine, published in November 2010.
“How exciting is the TV landscape today? Viewers are Twittering away while programmes are on, meaning broadcasters get to witness the authentic and true reactions to their programmes in real time. They’re enjoying engaging with programmes online, playing along to The Million Pound Drop; buying the songs from X Factor performances; and influencing the story in Seven Days. Multi-platform commissions are becoming closer to the TV commissioning process. And then there are fancy new movements (with fancy new names) like transmedia storytelling – taking a narrative and telling it across different platforms, both on and offline.
It’s all change, both in the creation and consumption of content.
But while all this innovation is taking place at an exciting pace, there is one thing that seems to be stuck in a rut; the way we measure all this stuff, and moreover, sell the value of it to advertisers.
Perhaps one reason we’ve not made any significant strides in moving the commercial proposition and measure of a programme’s success beyond BARB’s current system of a measure of viewer numbers, is that with this new world of possibilities comes a level of uncertainty of how much more it will change.
Perhaps also, it’s about the scale of the complexity and nuances that we can see in different types of engagement with all these emerging platforms and consumption behaviours. Viewing is simple. It’s easy to measure.
How can a common measure of value be reached when we’re seeing an increased variety of attention patterns with various formats of programmes and many platforms for engagement? That said, what if we could pin this value down, measure it and sell the value of it? Surely this would be in the interest of advertisers and commissioners alike; with nuance and complexity comes a deeper understanding of the audiences.
So what should we be measuring? The first step to answering this would be to understand what constitutes engagement. Engagement. Now there’s a word, used in many different contexts and meaning many different things to different people. Which is why it’s probably all the more important to decide what engagement means to broadcasters (and in turn, advertisers) and define a common and accepted language around such.
Wouldn’t it be great to find simple ways to measure engagement, which augment and enhance BARB figures? Viewing isn’t dead. In fact people are watching more telly now than ever before. Much like the new online landscape has enhanced viewers’ experiences with programmes, how can BARB figures be enhanced?
Perhaps we could take timeslices in the schedule or genres and establish an online share of voice. We could also take the same slices and determine a ‘talkability’ score or sentiment for each broadcaster. We could even get a deeper understanding of a viewer of a programme on a specific channel, beyond demographic data that might not be telling the whole story.
Whatever we decide upon around what constitutes engagement and what we should measure, the most important thing in this story I believe is that we all come to this together and define a common language and set of values. If broadcasters and advertisers come together to tackle this opportunity collaboratively, it’s more likely to become widely accepted and take the whole TV industry forward, to everyone’s benefit.”