Digital metrics for analogue media: TVSquared's Calum Smeaton explains how second-screening has spawned TV analytics

Will Railton
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TV offers advertisers reach, says Smeaton (Source: Getty)

The attribution question is one which has always puzzled advertisers. It has been answered only in part by digital advertising, through the ability to monitor click-through rates on digital ads, advocacy on social media and other trackable forms of engagement. But the true value of TV advertising remains an unknown quantity.

Despite advertisers’ inability to monitor the viewability of TV adverts, the industry has long treated them as a holy grail. TV’s dominance over other media may have slipped as digital has risen in prominence, but Zenith’s projections for 2018 indicate that it will continue to enjoy a bigger slice of global budgets (33.7 per cent) than any other channel.

Many studies have indicated that TV is better at building brand awareness – an intangible, but potentially enormous competitive advantage. But measuring the return on investment of any TV advert, in isolation, has been impossible.

“Digital has all these tools and analytics to determine the best days, channels, and types of creative that will deliver the best result and then appropriate their digital spend,” says Calum Smeaton, founder and chief executive of TVSquared, a TV analytics startup. This analogue medium, he thinks, can employ digital metrics to better inform media buying strategies.

So how does TV analytics work, and why hasn’t it been possible before now?

Second screening

It’s about correlation more than causation. Smeaton, the former chief executive of Sumerian, which provides analytics for retail and investment banks, founded TVSquared in 2012, as “second screening” started to emerge as a dominant trend in the way audiences consume TV. The rise of people using a smartphone or tablet while watching TV means that spikes in online searches in the minutes after an advert airs are a good indicator of the effectiveness of a particular spot.

Around three quarters of audiences who watch live broadcast TV are also using a smartphone or tablet at the same time. So if a TV spot stimulates them, they are inclined to Google the brand soon after, making it much easier for brands to work out which channels it is most effective to advertise on, at what time and during which programmes. “Before this, Google was able to take much of the credit for driving traffic to the brand’s site,” explains Smeaton.

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TVSquared’s ADvantage platform assesses how effective a TV ad has been for a brand, by monitoring spikes in online traffic around the time it airs. A second platform, Predict, uses machine-learning to help airtime buyers automate the creation of their purchasing specifications based on predictive analysis of that data.

There will inevitably be a lag between the airing of a TV spot and engagement using a second device. But spot-by-spot, minute-by-minute analysis – which informs advertisers whether their campaigns are effective on the day they run – is a huge improvement on the speed of ratings agencies, which typically distribute figures six weeks after the air date.

Untraditional audiences

There are other reasons that the rise of TV analytics is timely. It has coincided with brands demanding greater accountability when it comes to their advertising expenditure. Spending on digital has been kept on a tight leash precisely because it can be monitored very closely. The advent of TV analytics promises that spending on more traditional media can be made similarly efficient.

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Over the same period, TV emerged as a medium to complement digital, rather than compete with it. “TV offers reach,” he says. “E-commerce businesses which only advertised online realise that TV offers a reach they can’t get anywhere else.”

Indeed, TVSquared’s clients include online businesses like Delivery Hero which have turned to more traditional channels in a bid to increase their customer base.

It also offers trust, says Smeaton. Marketers worried that their digital impressions are falling victim to bot fraud don’t have the same problem with TV. Viewers may turn to another channel during ad breaks, or decide not to pay attention, but at least marketers aren’t being charged on a “cost per mille” basis for a false impression.

Moreover, TV analytics can help reach audiences which advertisers may not know are there. Children’s TV programmes are a surprisingly effective way to reach mothers, explains Smeaton. “They may be on their tablet while their kids are watching TV in the same room.” There is much still to learn, it seems, about traditional media.

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