Attribution models that penalize Cable Networks

The use of Automated Content Recognition (ACR) technology is poised to change television advertising as we know it.  ACR can recognize unique television content on connected devices, such as smart televisions and mobile phones, including the ability to track unique television ads being viewed on these devices.  We can already track what consumers are doing online, but what has been missing is the ability to track offline advertising exposure with the same level of granularity.

As ACR becomes more widely adopted, offline advertising (including television and radio) will become as measurable as online advertising.   As exciting as this sounds, we don’t yet have enough consumer level ACR data to see a complete picture.  This hasn’t stopped some companies from hyping current ACR-based solutions as the holy grail of solving offline to online media attribution.   Before you get sucked into the media attribution reality-distortion field, you should be aware that their limited attribution results may also be based on a foundation of bad data.  We shudder to think of the harm this is causing networks and advertisers.  

Before diving into the specifics, let’s first examine how television media attribution works.  At the most basic level, television media attribution involves tracking when ads run and attempting to associate any measurable lift in online activity to the television ad.  When television schedules consist of ads running in close proximity across multiple networks, this approach becomes problematic with the resulting insights being merely directional at best.  Advertisers are looking for more accurate attribution solutions, which is where ACR running on smart televisions comes into play.

ACR detected an ad was viewed on ABC at 3 pm from IP address:
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In the above example, we see a family with an ACR enabled Smart TV viewing an Expedia ad on ABC.  Before the ad break, the ACR technology recognized the programming as being associated with ABC Network.  TV commercials can also be fingerprinted in order for smart televisions to recognize them.  In this example, an Expedia creative was detected at 3PM.  Since Smart TV’s are connected devices, the household IP address is known.  Any subsequent website visit from the same consumer household will share the same IP address allowing attribution companies to associate the website visit to a specific ad exposure.

Now, here’s something to think about.  What if Expedia is running this ad nationally on ABC at the same time they are running it on the local ABC affiliate?  The attribution company must determine which media company ran the commercial at 3PM.  The media attribution company is going to need post logs from the local ABC affiliate and from ABC nationally to determine which media partner to give credit to.

Getting post logs on a real time basis can be a real pain for attribution companies.  In order to solve this problem, some are also using ACR technology to monitor ads running on broadcast and cable networks to understand the timing of each airing. However, there are challenges with monitoring network feeds which can lead to inaccurate attribution results.

To help explain, let’s review a diagram of how national cable television ads are delivered to consumers.

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On the left side of the above diagram, a cable network sends its signal via satellite to two different Multiple Video Program Distributors (MVPDs).   MVPD  is a catch-all phrase to describe all of the television distribution companies that sell access to cable programming via cable, satellite, fiber, or via internet (for those of us who have “cut the cord”).  It’s important to realize that there are two different types of ad breaks in the mix.  We have the national ad break, in which commercials are seen by all viewers nationwide, and we have the DPI break.  As shown above, the cable network is airing an Expedia spot in the DPI break.  DPI breaks are preceded by a Digital Program Insertion (DPI) signal.  Most MVPDs have ad-insertion equipment that listens for the DPI signal.  As soon as the DPI signal is detected, the ad insertion equipment begins inserting commercials sold to local advertisers by the MVPD.   In the above diagram, one of the two MVPDs is shown inserting a Flex Tape commercial covering up the Expedia commercial.  In most markets, including the vast majority of urban markets, the MVPDs aggressively sell local advertising covering up most, if not all, of the ads inserted by the cable network in the DPI breaks.  However, in smaller rural markets, the MVPD may not sell local advertising allowing the Expedia ad to be seen by viewers.  The second MVPD above passes through the Expedia ad to viewers in their market.

As an ACR monitoring company, DRMetrix monitors commercial-grade feeds ahead of local MVPD ad inserters.  This allows for accurate reporting of the ads being inserted by the cable networks in both national and DPI ad breaks.  DRMetrix understands that the network above ran an Expedia ad in a DPI break while other companies, monitoring consumer grade feeds, may incorrectly conclude that Flex Tape ran on the network in a national ad break.  Unfortunately, the DPI signals that allow DRMetrix to recognize that Expedia ran in a DPI break are removed by the MVPD and are not included in consumer grade feeds.  Without DPI signaling, it is impossible to tell the break type.  This leads some research companies to report local MVPD airings, captured in the market they are monitoring from, as national airings making their research data unreliable and error prone.  Additionally, with consumer grade feeds, it is impossible to see the ads being inserted into DPI  breaks by the networks because of MVPD cover up.

To try and solve for their inability to detect the break type, some attribution companies have taken to monitoring consumer grade feeds from multiple markets.  If they see the same ad appearing in two or more markets they assume it is running on the network and will report the airing as national.  There are problems with this strategy because MVPDs are able to insert ads across multiple markets, regionally, or even nationally across their entire footprint.  It has become common place to target consumers regardless of locality via programmatic and advanced cable advertising models. Many of these models are able to target viewers across multiple MVPDs as well.  Given that targeted cable advertising is the future, the problem is only getting worse over time. These are just some of the reasons why ads can appear to be national when in reality they are reaching a much smaller audience. Unfortunately, attribution companies monitoring consumer grade feeds often report local ads like Flex Tape (above) as national.  

Since consumer response to a local ad is a mere fraction of a national ad, the attribution company may conclude that local airings, mistakenly associated with the cable network, are under-performing thus penalizing the networks.  Additionally, how about all of those ads in DPI breaks that Expedia and others are buying from the networks?  Despite the fact that they are being seen be viewers in various parts of the country, the attribution companies can’t see these airings if they are monitoring consumer grade feeds.  This results in the networks not getting credit for any of the consumers who viewed these ads and took action.  This is not a minor problem since many television campaigns run a substantial percentage of airings in DPI breaks on the networks.  

When trying to measure the effectiveness of national cable advertising using smart television ACR data, the challenge for attribution companies is to isolate which ACR detections correlate to specific national cable airings in both national and DPI breaks.  Since many of the smart television ACR detections stem from other TV advertising channels such as local cable, direct to consumer satellite, over the top services, programmatic, and advanced cable advertising, it is imperative to use commercial grade feeds to in order to properly associate which smart television households were exposed to true national cable ads.

Today’s attribution models are tenuous enough without incorporating inaccurate airings data into the mix.  Monitoring of consumer grade feeds results in bad data, false conclusions, and unfairly penalizes cable networks.  Numerous problems also exist when airings data from consumer grade feeds is used for competitive media research and/or airing verification.

Advertisers should be aware of how their attribution company is acquiring airings data.  If post logs are not being used, advertisers are encouraged to compare the spot detections reported by their attribution company against their own post-logs and/or affidavits.   

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GRPs take a backseat to new metrics

Understanding the true impact of television advertising has always been challenging.  Traditional models have relied on targeting an advertiser’s audience based on the metric of gross rating point (GRP).  Whether you believe in the accuracy of today’s television audience measurement systems or not, new competitive TV research is looking beyond GRPs to improve advertising return on investment (ROI) and key performance indicators (KPIs).

The premise is straightforward, learn what has worked for other successful TV campaigns and apply those insights to your campaign.  However, the key to success is finding and studying the right advertisers.

Hundreds of advertisers such as Humana, Nutrisystem, Lifelock, Zip Recruiter, Quicken Loans, ASPCA, and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, are providing consumers with a way to respond to their commercials via 1-800 numbers and web addresses.  These direct response advertisers measure the effectiveness of each television commercial, including which networks and dayparts are delivering the best ROI, by assigning a unique 1-800 number or URL/promotion code to each network/creative.  These campaigns focus on what works and quickly phase out networks, dayparts, and creatives that under perform.  “GRPs do not correlate to measured advertising ROI, which is why direct-response metrics are so valuable.  The television industry could learn a lot by studying direct response campaigns”, said Joseph Gray, CEO of DRMetrix.  Gray’s company has created Adsphere™, the first television research system of its kind that specializes in monitoring television campaigns that measure their advertising ROI using direct-response techniques.

Gray explains that AdSphere makes it easy to study these types of campaigns and discover which creative and media executions are working at the highest levels.  To make this possible, DRMetrix leveraged pattern and optical character-recognition technologies along with an innovation known as “automated content recognition” (ACR).  These technologies allow AdSphere to recognize TV campaigns that assign a unique 1-800 and/or URL/promotion code to each television network.

AdSphere has created a whole new world where advertisers and agencies can study competitive campaigns that are optimizing on the basis of measured ROI.  “Planning a television campaign on the basis of GRPs alone will hurt advertiser KPIs,” Gray said.  “But,when advertisers apply the actionable intelligence from AdSphere to the planning process, there’s a significant positive impact.

Marc Johnston from DirectAvenue echoed Gray’s statement, “While GRPs from one schedule to another maybe equal, measurable ROI can be a very different story.  AdSphere couples a premium data source with a slick, quick UI that we use to segment and study TV campaigns that manage creative and media placements on the basis of measured response and resulting ROI.”

“At Horizon Next, we are always in pursuit of ‘what’s next’ to elevate our data-driven approach to performance marketing as new tools and technologies become available,” said Gene Turner, EVP, Chief of Horizon Next, a division of Horizon Media. “AdSphere’s product enhances our existing toolkit and allows us to gain deeper insight into our client’s competitor’s television buys in real-time.”

David Figueroa from Catch 5 Direct added, “We’re big believers in research, so diving into the TV activity of similar advertisers is part of our MO. AdSphere is a great tool that allows us to dig even deeper to uncover potential opportunities for testing while providing great insight into messaging and offers in the marketplace.”

DRMetrix released its first, year-long Adsphere study of brand/direct and direct-response television spots.  For the 2016 year, AdSphere detected 7.92 million spot airings (valued at $6.4 billion*) which elicited consumer response across 92 national cable networks.  The study focused on short-form spots up to five minutes in duration.

In less than 3 years, Adsphere has amassed a database of over 7,000 brands that have tested and/or rolled out over 29,000 TV creatives.  In 2017, AdSphere expanded its network footprint to over 100 national cable networks.  AdSphere tracks all creative formats including short-form spots, five minute shows, and even 28.5-minute infomercials across an airing database that has grown to over 23 million airings as of October of 2017.  AdSphere’s 2016 study showed that the industry is three to four times larger than what leading television research companies have reported.  The reasons for this significant variance, and the study itself, are available by clicking here.

*Based on 2016 AdSphere Industry Study

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Are new TV advertising technologies delivering efficiency for direct response campaigns?


We are witnessing the most significant disruption to television since the advent of cable. A number of MVPDs (Multi-channel Video Program Distributors) have launched new OTT (Over the top) services such as Hulu, Youtube, Sling TV, Directv Now, etc. As these new services compete for Millennial cord cutters, they are providing a new way for advertisers to target this sought after demographic. Given the fact that these services are new, and viewership is still building, DRMetrix wanted to know if direct response advertisers were having success advertising in these new mediums. So, we headed over to Survey Monkey and emailed out a survey to a few thousand direct response professionals this week.

Special thanks to the 117 respondents who completed our survey!

Here are the results:

Question 1:

Have you run a direct response campaign on any OTT delivery service such as Sling, Directv Now, Hulu, etc?

Answer: 40 respondents (34.2%) answered YES

Question 2:

The promise of OTT is that we can reach our target market more cost effectively. We should be able to support a premium cost-per-thousand viewers while increasing response rates and driving down the delivered cost-per-order or lead. In comparison to national cable buys, how would you rank the performance of OTT buys today on a scale from 1 (terrible) to 100 (terrific)?

Answer: 38 respondents (32.5%) provided a below average performance score of “47” for OTT buys.

Question 3:

Have you tried an advanced cable advertising campaign targeting individual cable households?

Answer: 34 respondents (29%) answered YES

Question 4:

The promise of Advanced Cable Advertising is that we can reach our target market more cost effectively. We should be able to support a premium cost-per-thousand viewers while increasing response rates and driving down the delivered cost-per-order or lead. In comparison to national cable buys, how would you rank the performance of Advanced Cable Advertising buys today On a scale from 1 (terrible) to 100 (terrific)?

Answer: 33 respondents (28.2%) provided an above average performance score of “60” for advanced cable advertising buys.

Question 5:

Today, many U.S. households have connected video streaming devices such as smart televisions. It is possible to fingerprint a TV commercial and detect when unique consumer households are exposed to the advertisement. The household IP address can then be used to target members of that household via digital ad campaigns on their 2nd screen devices. The premise is that a distracted TV consumer using a 2nd screen device while watching TV may be more inclined to respond if they see the ad across all of their devices rather than limited to their television screen. Playing devils advocate, if one gets off the couch and takes a bio break, or goes to the kitchen during a commercial break, then advertisers would be paying a premium to reach such consumers with perhaps little upside.Have you executed any 2nd screen targeting campaigns synced to live TV ads?

Answer: 24 respondents (20.5%) answered YES

Question 6:

How have your TV to 2nd screen retargeting campaigns worked on a scale from 1 (terrible) to 100 (terrific)?

Answer: 24 respondents (20.5%) provided an above average performance score of “54” for 2nd Screen Targeting campaigns.

Summary Findings:

Advanced cable advertising indexed above average and significantly higher than OTT. The responses on 2nd screen targeting were less conclusive given the small number of respondents.   DRMetrix looks forward to conducting this survey into the future as adoption rates increase.

On a related topic, DRMetrix has been researching ways to monitor OTT streams to help educate the marketplace.  Unfortunately, given where the marketplace is at currently, there is no comprehensive way to do so.  New emerging ACR (automated content recognition) technology is now running on streaming devices such as smart televisions. Millions of smart television owners, have opted into an arrangement where their smart TV is able to listen and report the ads that are running on their television. This data is certainly helpful to advertisers. This capability could also provide a way to track OTT airings across a large number of consumer households if it weren’t for the fact that the vast majority of OTT providers will not allow it.  They are contractually requiring that smart TV manufacturers to turn off ACR detection while consumers are running their smart TV applications.  As a result, smart television data providers are extremely limited in their ability to monitor OTT streams.  One noteable exception is when smart TV customers hook up third party devices such as Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Amazon TV, etc.  The smart television ACR can detect ads that are running but now the problem is determining the source of the ACR detection should it be from an OTT provider.  We are not aware of any existing solutions to this particular problem.  Stay tuned as this situation may change into the future.  If so, DRMetrix will report when and if there is a breakthrough in this area!

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New Build of AdSphere Released!

We are pleased to announce some new exciting features that are coming to AdSphere today.

With more than 27,000 creatives, 6,800 brands, and 3,800 advertisers in the AdSphere database, finding what you’re looking is now easier than ever.

Introducing AdSphere’s new Global Search & Advertiser Pages!

Please click here for a short video walk through of these powerful new features.

We have even more exciting new features planned to debut at the upcoming ERA – D2C Convention in Las Vegas.  DRMetrix will be exhibiting October 4-5 at booth #309.  To schedule an appointment to visit with a member of our team at the show, please click here.  Please bring a colleague or two with you!

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