Tuesday, November 11, 2008

OOH ratings: Arbitron's in, Nielsen's out

I've seen so many things attributed to the crappy economy at this point that I'm having trouble keeping things straight.  Does it mean harder times ahead, or more opportunities than ever? Less business or more business? Good things for the digital signage industry, or bad?

The latest news from Arbitron doesn't do anything to clear up my confusion. As today's press release indicates,
"EYE, the mall media specialist, has signed an agreement with Arbitron Custom Research to measure the effectiveness of mall-based advertisements and the psychographics of EYE mall shoppers.
Arbitron will conduct on-site mall surveys in multiple markets across the United States. This study will be comprised of two parts: adult and teen. The adult study will evaluate the effectiveness of EYE advertising based on demographic information as well as specific questions concerning shopping behavior, shopper segmentation and advertising appeal."

Contrast that with the recent news from Nielsen, which noted that,
"The failing economy just took its first research casualty. Nielsen and IMMI announced late Friday (Nov. 7) they would suspend their syndicated Out-of-Home Report, which measured viewing to TV outside the home. Since launching in April, the service only managed to sign two clients, ESPN and Zenith Optimedia.

"In the current climate, there is limited economic support for this new measurement service," the company said in a prepared statement.

The final report will cover viewing through Nov. 9, 2008.

Nielsen didn't completely close the door on the project. "We recognize that measuring the out-of-home component of television viewing is an important need for our clients. We will continue to work on out-of-home measurement solutions, including efforts with IMMI," the company said.

The service was based on a panel of 500 participants in six local markets (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Houston and Denver) plus 1,700 national panelists. To collect data, IMMI gives respondents a cell phone equipped with software that uses pattern matching to track media exposure."

I understand that this is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. After all, Arbitron's bread-and-butter are the self-contained research projects like the kind EYE has requested. Meanwhile, Nielsen had taken a much more ambitious approach of measuring the impact to a general set of OOH stimuli. Also, while it's unclear that Arbitron could parlay the EYE deal into a larger, more generalized measurement service for digital OOH media, Nielsen could always come back and re-activate their program if there was sufficient demand.

Personally, I don't think the economy had anything to do with Nielsen's suspension of this program. I think there are simply too few traditional media buyers interested in the medium. The people who continue to keep most digital signage networks in business today aren't using Nielsen data or even traditional CPM figures to make their purchase decisions. They're continuing to rely on pilot data and a gut feeling, which will help keep the smaller players alive for now, but could well hamper industry growth when the economy improves.

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