Paramount ad exec says iSpot currency deal speaks to JIC's momentum

New York - Paramount Global this week inked a deal to use currency metrics from measurement vendor iSpot to measure and transact on national TV ad campaigns across the company’s media and streaming platforms in the U.S.

Speaking during the 12th annual CIMM Summit in New York City on Tuesday, Paramount SVP of Advanced Advertising Travis Scoles discussed the significance of the iSpot deal along with benefits of ushering in multiple currencies amid major industry shifts. The deal with iSpot is illustrative of the media company’s commitment to “support every JIC-certified currency,” Scoles said.

The OpenAP-led JIC – or U.S. Joint Industry Committee – formed earlier this year with backing of major programmers and input from buyers with the aim of certifying multiple cross-platform currencies suitable for transacting ahead of the 2024 Upfront. ISpot, along with Comscore and VideoAmp, were the three measurement vendors that recently secured conditional currency certification from the JIC and moved into phase two of data evaluation ahead of full certification, expected to be awarded in early 2024.

The JIC’s formation was against an industry backdrop where legacy incumbent Nielsen came under scrutiny for accuracy of its TV ratings – with accreditation by the Media Rating Council reinstated for national TV ratings following a 19-month suspension. So far Nielsen has declined to participate in the JIC. The certification process in part has provided more opportunity for relative newcomers like iSpot and others. The JIC also came about in response to brands, advertisers and programmers seeking more reliable and transparent data to transact on, as viewing consumption is fragmented across a variety of distribution modes and platforms in a continued consumer shift to streaming.

Scoles said Paramount has had a long relationship with iSpot and worked together over the past 12-18 months around its product and how it can work within Paramount’s processes and transactional ecosystem. Paramount plans to start supporting iSpot as a currency and transacting on it as of Q1. The iSpot Unified Measurement tool combines linear and streaming viewership into a single cross-screen metric. It can provide granular campaign details such as on-target reach, ad frequency, linear and streaming overlap, and incrementality broken out by channel, publisher and type of service.

At Tuesday’s CIMM fireside chat, hosted by TVREV analyst Alan Wolk, Scoles said the iSpot deal speaks not only to a new currency in the multi-currency space, but momentum of the JIC’s efforts.  

JIC certification plays an important role in the ecosystem to ensure a level of reliability that data is transactable and enabling fair deals, according to Scoles, who also suggested the current shift in audience and ad measurement means upheaval to some extent and the need for some standardization.

Essentially, the JIC helps gives confidence to answer questions such as can buyers and sellers believe data from these partners is transactable and is there trust they can leverage it in ad sales to ultimately make fair deals.

This is particularly important, he said, “especially at a time where the industry is undergoing so much change and so much evolution. And this shift it’s going to be turbulent.”

That turbulence is something Scoles thinks everybody recognizes, noting an industry move away from how things have been done for a very long time.

“It only makes sense for the folks that are most impacted by that, buyers and sellers of media who are both jointly participating in this to come together and take a stance and say this can’t be the Wild West anymore, we need some rules,” he said.

Advantages of multiple currencies

Asked by Wolk why an advertiser or brand would want something other than Nielsen and advantages of multiple currency vendors, Scoles cited immediate, medium and long-term benefits.

Advanced audiences is the first short-term benefit he cited for bringing in another third-party dataset. The products that exist and big datasets they match against “really enable a much higher fidelity and better, we’ll say result,” Scoles said, in terms of rationale for incorporating another outside dataset.

He pointed to the traditional role Nielsen panels played, historically with a very linear focus. However, that’s “not the way the industry works anymore…we are distributed in many fragmented places.”

And cross-platform measurement is attractive, he continued, because digital fundamentally reflects census-level datasets.

Unlike linear and sub panels, what comes out of the ad server “is representative of what the ad server is actually doing in totality” with data which by nature is in the hundreds of millions of records for people consuming media in the U.S.

“And they want to understand the duplication of that information with a traditional linear set. That’s another big data to big data match. And it works better when you don’t have to throw away 99.97% of the one data set,” Scoles said. "That’s really the core advantage today.”

In the short to-medium term, he said an interesting aspect is that much development in the new currency space is being driven by advertisers and agencies that are working with datasets to already understand the impact of media on their brands.

Now, he said sellers can work with those parties to carry forward an overall marketing strategy in a highly reliable way, through to the final measurement layer where there can be straight comparisons.

“So you have stability and an apples to apples comparison from when you’re trying to plan the impact of your media, all the way down to when you’re measuring the impact of that media,” he said. “And that loop is what’s going to allow marketers to understand and iterate and learn from their decisions and make better decisions moving forward.”

Finally, a long-term benefit is injecting more competition into the space that has long been dominated by a single player. The executive contended that currently, activation capabilities far outpace that of measurement, including in terms of convergent optimization, and wants to see them catch up.

“The only way to do that is to create a competitive pressure, which will force innovation,” Scoles said.

He believes more competition among vendors creates incentive for them to keep up and evolve products alongside industry changes, “and bring measurement back into the same zone that activation and strategy are already in, which ultimately will create a better cycle for marketers.”

Importance of JIC Streaming Data Service

Wolk also brought up the topic of Nielsen’s controversial move (which it later walked back) to incorporate Amazon first-party data from Prime Video’s NFL Thursday Night Football in viewership ratings – or as the analyst noted, essentially grading its own homework – asking Scoles why there’s a need for third parties when media companies have a plethora of valuable viewing data on hand.

Scoles said there needs to be a gatekeeper. To that end, he sees the formation of the JIC’s Streaming Data Service – which it plans to launch in beta next year to harmonize streaming viewership data, with access available to certified currency vendors – as highly impactful. He acknowledged first-party data is “extraordinarily valuable” and thanks to streaming, publishers have huge swaths of their own data on viewing.

However, he said the industry wants to make sure data is deployed correctly, while highlighting the complexity. Even inside the streaming ecosystem alone, fragmentation means the number of distribution points and device combinations rises into “thousands and thousands of combinations,” making for very complicated data.

The purpose of the JIC’s streaming data service is “to have a place where that data can be normalized at scale, so that more than one measurement partner can participate and can leverage that data to provide better answers and more accurate information,” he said, adding that Paramount is committed to supporting it.

“We believe in first-party data, we believe in big data, we just want it to be used equitably and responsibly.”

Still with big data in hand, Scoles asserted that knowing for certain what viewing is happening beyond the TV screen, or glass as it’s called, (meaning who actually is in the room and watched an ad) isn’t going to become a reality.

“At the end of the day, all the data signals end at the glass,” he said. “Everything from the glass forward is projection.”

Questioning how the industry will know exactly who’s in front of the glass, Scoles contended, “we’ll never get there… that type of data doesn’t exist at scale.”

To get that kind of information, the SVP explained every person in the U.S. would need to volunteer to contribute all of their viewership pattern data akin to how Nielsen does now with panels – and those people would likely want to be compensated and then datasets would need to be maintained.

But with new measurement vendors, he noted, they’re licensing commercially available datasets that provide full transparency as others can also access, and tapping passive datasets including ACR and set top boxes, to combine together and progress to a much better spot measurement-wise than the industry started.

That’s the type of forward traction he likes to see and believes should be the focus moving ahead.

“We cannot let perfection stand in the way of progress. And there is no perfection available,” Scoles commented.