iSpot Acquires DRMetrix To Bolster DTC, Direct Response Offerings and Addressable Advertising Capabilities


BELLEVUE — Oct. 11th, 2021, the real-time platform for measuring the business and brand impact of cross-platform TV advertising, today announced the acquisition of DRMetrix, a real-time TV ad measurement company specializing in products for direct-to-consumer and direct-response TV advertisers. 

The deal expands iSpot’s measurement of emerging formats for addressable advertising and enhances its ability to track rotating calls-to-actions, including website URLs, SMS and toll-free numbers. This capability — coupled with iSpot’s ability to track distinct creatives at scale and correlate ad exposures to conversion events such as digital actions and in-store traffic — gives brands of all sizes the expanded ability to measure the business impact of complex and dynamic ad buys across platforms. 

“iSpot is constantly investing in the development and acquisition of technologies required to accurately measure the TV advertising of tomorrow,” says Sean Muller, founder and CEO of iSpot. “DRMetrix has developed unique and real-time measurement capabilities around creative versioning and dynamic advertising that will become increasingly important as the TV ad market evolves.” 

DRMetrix’s AdSphere™ developed a measurement system for monitoring all TV ad formats and executions including those delivered via digital program insertion (DPI) ad breaks. The DPI measurement capabilities allow precise identification of ad creatives that are sold by the cable networks as “cover-ups,” which MVPDs inconsistently overlay with their own inventories. 

This inventory, which includes addressable and local advertising, creates a continuous blind spot for networks, agencies and brands. The cover-ups are a favorite means for DTC and DR advertisers to invest in and test television, as they often come at a heavy discount. But both the buy and sell side struggle to accurately quantify the performance and value of this inventory because, until the combination of DRMetrix and iSpot, they could not be measured precisely at scale. 

“We developed a unique system for accurately measuring one of the most dynamic and difficult portions of TV advertising, and we amassed a client base that represents a growing and important part of the TV ecosystem,” says Joseph Gray, founder/CEO of DRMetrix. “In iSpot, we’ve found a home for our innovations to thrive and a vehicle to accelerate our shared goals of making all TV ad measurement more transparent, more actionable and easier.”

The combined capability will also create cost savings for advertisers that traditionally rely on spike analysis, rotating phone numbers and links as the primary means for attribution.

DRMetrix serves 120 brands, networks and agencies, growing iSpot’s customer footprint to more than 450 annual brand subscriptions representing 60%+ of brands in the Ad Age 100 and 95% of TV networks in North America. This is iSpot’s second acquisition of a real-time ad measurement company. It acquired Ace Metrix in January to combine business and brand impact using Ace’s comprehensive qualitative approach to measurement and scoring of creative performance. 

About iSpot is the market leader in real-time cross-platform TV ad measurement and attribution. The company’s always-on platform measures the business impact and brand impact of TV advertising and offers fast, accurate and actionable information that empowers brands to justify and optimize TV and video investments.

iSpot persistently measures TV-device impressions and second-by-second attention for all TV ads in a unified manner across linear, time-shifted, VOD and streaming environments. iSpot’s Ace Metrix product measures brand perceptions for TV and video creatives using rapid qualitative panels, and its market-leading attribution solution enables advertisers and TV networks to plan, optimize and transact on business outcomes. 

iSpot delivers its solution in real time via intuitive and modern dashboards as well as APIs and customized analytics. has hundreds of brands and all major TV networks licensing its enterprise solution and has become a trusted currency for both networks and brands. Founded in Bellevue, Washington in 2013, iSpot has offices in major cities across America.

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The Rise of Longer Ad Formats in Television

A new study shows surprising growth in longer television ad formats.  Conducted by Southern California-based research firm, DRMetrix, the study finds 2018 year-over-year growth in the number of 45 second spots grew by 583.86%, 75 second spots grew by 184.62%, and 180 second spots grew by 487.03%.  This is some of the interesting data that has surfaced in DRMetrix’s new AdSphere 5 x 5 industry study that is being released next week to attendees of the PDMI-West event.  The study trends data across 5 years (2015 – 2019) and across 5 different segments of direct-response-television and brand-direct advertising.

For its analysis, DRMetrix’s AdSphere system was used to monitor 130 national networks using state-of-the-art automated content recognition (ACR) and included in its study any ad that provided a phone number, web address, mobile SMS code or app store logo from Apple or Google.  “What’s unique about this group of advertisers is that they have the ability to immediately measure consumer response to their commercials allowing them to quantify differences in overall response to different ad formats.” said Joseph Gray, CEO of DRMetrix.   “These types of advertisers have discovered what direct-response-television advertisers have known for decades – that longer ad formats are more effective.”

In explaining his latter point, Gray invoked David Ogilvy, the man whom many consider the father of modern advertising. In a famous speech called “We sell or else” from the 1960s, Ogilvy lauded the value of direct-response advertising and predicted the worlds of direct response and general advertising were on a collision course.

“Ogilvy recognized that longer ad formats on television were more effective than shorter formats and that direct response advertisers were unique in their ability to determine which aspects of their television buys were actually working,” Gray said. “He famously remarked, ‘You know to a dollar’ what you are spending.”

Ogilvy also predicted the practitioners of general advertising would one day learn from the experience of the direct-response industry and stated it would be within the power of direct-response practitioners to rescue the advertising business from its “manifold lunacies.”

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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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