TVision nabs $16M investment led by iSpot

TVision, a startup providing a proprietary person-level panel data for audience viewership, has nabbed a $16 million strategic investment led by iSpot, which aims to usher in a holistic view for ratings and measurement across the linear and CTV landscape.

The funding brings New York-based TVision’s total raised to over $58 million. Other investors include SIG Capital, Accomplice and Golden Ventures.

As part of the investment iSpot CEO and founder Sean Muller will be joining the TVision board. iSpot will license TVision’s co-viewing data for CTV audience ratings across more than 900 streaming apps and publishers.

It’s the first time TVision is licensing co-viewing data for CTV to a measurement vendor, and will be exclusive to iSpot, meaning it's the only vendor to have access to both the linear and CTV co-viewing data, according to Muller. TVision already licenses its co-viewing CTV data to certain publishers and will continue to do so, he confirmed.

The investment comes as TV viewership is increasingly fragmented across apps, publishers and devices, and the media industry is looking to new currencies to transact on with forms of measurement that drive greater advertiser confidence to shift bigger ad budgets into CTV and multi-screen campaigns.

iSpot has been working with TVision for around three years already, including using its panel to measure co-viewing for linear television, and Muller told Fierce it believes TVision has revolutionized panel technology.

“They’ve developed technology that really is next level in terms of understanding the behavior of TV viewership in the home, and doing it in a very high-precision, passive way,” Muller said in an interview.

TVision CEO Yan Liu explained to Fierce how the company’s calibration panel, which is already in use by advertisers and media networks, is unique.

He said that unlike systems created in the 1980s (i.e., The Peoplemeter from Nielsen), which require active involvement from participants or viewers, TVision has an AI-driven fully passive measurement system that collects person-level information from both linear and CTV at the same time, on a second-by-second basis. It deploys a camera-based device, or a webcam, at the top of a TV set, that captures image and video in the living room. It tracks not only the number and type of people in the room, but also their level of attention to ads and programming on the TV, across linear and CTV.

Liu emphasized that the video device is privacy safe. He said images are analyzed to understand, for example, that there are three people watching TV, two females and one male, and their attention level to content and ads. He said small CSV files are uploaded to the cloud and that raw image and video is then immediately thrown away after processing. The passive nature also helps TVision ensure it’s not introducing biased viewer behavior.

“This is a much much better way to measure TV because the consumers’ behavior are not influenced at all by our measurement solution,” he said, as opposed to needing to take a phone call, survey, or push a button.

The TVision panel is around 90% cheaper than Nielsen’s panel on a per unit basis, according to Liu, and because people in the panel don’t need to actively participate, he said churn is also much lower.

For iSpot, it adds another complementary data set for the vendor’s offering, adding precision for both linear and CTV to its unified measurement product. iSpot is one of the vendors emerging as an alternate currency provider. It uses big data that measures ad impressions and reach for linear and streaming television – already in use by companies such as NBCUniversal and others.

This fall it inked a deal with Conviva, which pulled streaming programming data into the fold as Conviva captures what content is being delivered on devices second-by-second. Meanwhile, TVision can determine the average audience (or co-viewing) for any of those programs being streamed.

“A good measurement system requires a lot of different data sets,” Muller explained. “It’s not just one data set here or one panel, it really is the combination.”

In leading the round for TVision, one impetus for iSpot is that it wants to see more investment flow into alternative panels using more advanced technology, according to Muller, providing different measurement options than currently available with only Nielsen.

And as companies want CTV ad investment to follow increases in viewership, Muller said the marketplace needs two major things: One unified measurement of CTV and linear so marketers can sell ads together as a package across linear and streaming, and two, better co-viewing data for CTV.

“Today a lot of CTV deals are done simply on a television impression basis without any information about who’s in front of the screen,” Muller noted. “So this will allow the industry now to transact on true co-viewing for CTV, with verified delivery of impressions.”

The combo of iSpot and TVision data is a best of both worlds situation he added. “We think it’s a pretty decisive capability that we’re putting together in this partnership between iSpot and TVision.”

With the funds, Liu said TVision wants to unleash the full potential of its panel. He noted that the company may be able to use the panel for verification as well as additional use cases, with a focus on how it can build more product on top of data and panel assets to offer to more clients in the industry.

Need for standardization

Both Liu and Muller believe there’s need for more standardization in the industry, a place where the marriage of big data and person-level panels can play a role.

“With the quick emergence of CTV it is chaotic for sure,” Muller acknowledged of the measurement space. “There’s a great need for standardization across the board."

That includes unifying measurement around linear and streaming, as today, he noted there’s no standard currency for streaming. Muller said there needs to be standardization in how audiences for CTV are measured, verification of those deliveries, and around co-viewing or the person-level measurement.

“We see this as a great opportunity to bring that currency or standardization into the CTV marketplace, which really it needs desperately.”

To that point, recent survey data from Innovid found the top pain point for brands and advertisers looking for a unified converged TV view was viewer fragmentation, followed by creative personalization and inconsistent measurement.

Liu also said the iSpot and TVision partnership brings two elements together as a way to solve current problems and measure everything at scale.

“I do believe there are more so-called walled gardens in our industry,” he commented. “The big data-only or panel-only approach is not going to work anymore.”

As for iSpot and TVision integrating their different data sets, some combos are turnkey, such as TVision’s co-viewing for CTV, while plans for other integrations with iSpot will be a bit of a heavier lift.

For example, Muller said TVision is going to start ingesting the iSpot ad catalog and detecting the ads within its home panel, which will include linear and CTV detection. Muller said iSpot is planning to build some additional product on top of that data set “for example, ad competitive intelligence for CTV as well as bolstering our TV ratings products.”

Muller added that the company is excited to be able to pull different datasets together to be able to transact on both traditional age and gender, as well as advanced audiences. 

He believes transacting on alternative currencies will really take off in the 2023-2024 upfronts, when all will be new, including Nielsen’s currency with Nielsen One.

“That’s really going to be a moment where you see a lot of change in the transaction currency, including many different companies besides the legacy being used for currency,” Muller said.

As iSpot invests in the TVision panel, Nielsen's own ratings remain in question. The Media Rating Council voted to keep Nielsen TV ratings accreditation suspended, per a letter viewed by AdWeek, but said is still in the process of actively working with Nielsen to address remaining issues so it can reconsider reinstating. The MRC noted the vendor has made progress since last year when the industry body pulled accreditation over potentially inaccurate data.

The iSpot investment in TVision also got kudos from executives at NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery. NBCU’s Kelly Abcarian in the funding announcement pointed to greater accuracy.

“Combining iSpot’s massive panel with TVision’s modern approach to counting real people helps advertisers measure co-viewing across linear and CTV with greater accuracy across households and diverse audiences,” said Abcarian, EVP, Measurement & Impact NBCUniversal, in a statement. “A cross-platform currency, based on the exact ad and powered by fast and accurate co-viewing metrics, will also bring a completely new approach to valuing premium content."

Meanwhile, WBD’s Andrea Zapta highlighted precision in audience measurement.

“TVision’s modern measurement approach is more precise in identifying who is in front of the screen, said Zapata, EVP Ad Sales Research, Measurement and Insights at WBD. “With investments towards panel growth and the inclusion of multiple tv sets in a household, there is a real possibility of having a representative panel that relies less on additional panel(s) for calibration.”