Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Leaving an impression, eye contact + making time matter

The self appointed senior deputy official accounters of anytime, anywhere media measurement, Nielsen, announced that they will soon provide data for online TV viewing. This, it is said, will complement their 'people meter'-derived homes data, which currently calls the hits and the misses for traditional tv viewing (i.e., the kind that actually requires a television set). Nielsen release here.

On the surface, Nielsen's claim that it is important to account for online TV viewing seems reasonable. Multiple data sources, including Quantcast, Google, comScore and Nielsen are in violent agreement that more and more of us are watching TV shows on our computer screens. Unfortunately, Nielsen's move to more accurately, er, comprehensively account for tv viewing just isn't that big of a deal.

Say What?

The Nielsen approach attempts to take that which no longer is distinct (the TV) and treat it as if it were. Not to 'dis Nielsen, the same challenge presents itself in the way many traditional media interests have viewed the move online: they've taken the analog vehicle (e.g., TV set, newspaper, album) and tried to move that model online as if it were still distinct. Newspapers, music publishers, books...moving them online integrates video, text, images and audio behind a single, digitally-enabled screen to rule them all...with speakers...and a keyboard.

So the idea that Nielsen's online TV viewing measurement matters much would require that traditional television programming must matter. Of course it does, just not as much as the salad days when we had less to do, with fewer tools to do it. Because now, our friend's silly video of their kid's soccer game matters more than primetime TV. So do our Twitter grunts and Facebook statuses. And we don't like it much when MadMen try to get between us and our context with interruptive, irrelevant advertising online.

So What?

Of course, like healthcare, we all want everything free: free media that is free of advertising and subscription costs. But unlike healthcare, we're willing to pay for ad-free viewing when we upgrade to OnDemand or TiVo-like equipment.

So, let me propose a measure that matters: time spent. It's the common currency that we all share equally...just 24 hours in everyone's bank.

Rather than treat us all as eyeballs and charge for impressions, let's get the best and brightest at Nielsen to track time spent...and where...did we watch 2 videos and read a status on Facebook? Did we watch 10 minutes of The Office on Hulu then 5 minutes of EpicFail?

Each online property can price it's minutes of engagement commensurate with individual's willingness to engage there. Rather than pretending that only 250,000 of us matter when it comes to measuring online media, let's pretend we all do. And rather than pretending that there is 'an audience' let's get content whereever there is one or more audiences.

Spend alot of time commenting on your friend's wall? Sending hundreds of Tweets a day to your sheeps on Twitter? Let your preferred screen sell you based on your time spent...not the number of screens you refresh. You can even let your preferred screen know what you are worth by bidding your time back. Willing to sell your time short? Tell your preferred screen what you are willing to tolerate. I'll tolerate one 60-second ad for every 15 minutes of ad-free experience.

Better yet, give me a bank of earned 'ad-free' time that I accumulate by watching ads...then when I really want to watch a show, visit a site or watch my Friend Feed refresh, without added interruption, I cash out my ad balance by changing my expereince profile to 'ad-free'.

In such a manner, Nielsen doesn't care what show gets billions of eyeballs (because none of them do), they care which sites get millions of minutes...or hundreds of minutes...of attention. And like a utility, sites can price their user's attention individually, variably, and in realtime. The user has a say in how durable a site's demand is by their willingness to accept or cash out ad-free credits.

In the end, the networks matter as either content networks or distribution networks. If the former, you want to be wherever, whenever their is a willing audience on the latter. If the latter, you have to price on what the customer will pay (i.e., your users).

In the end end, Keynes says we're all dead. So as advertisers and consumers let's make the most of the time we spend together rather than being satisfied with mere eye contact.

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