I recently hit the milestone of my first year running RSMB. I'm often asked what I've made of the change from the media owner side to research agency, what I've learned and how I see RSMB developing in the future. It's certainly been an eventful year in many ways for all of us and as we start to come out of lockdown it also feels like the right time to take stock, and put on record some answers to these questions.
It’s unlikely you remember what you were doing on May 1st 2002, after all it was nearly 19 years ago. However I do, very clearly. I was Controller of Audience Research for the BBC at the time and was sat in a meeting room high up in the Hampshire Hotel in Leicester Square. Buzzing in the sky outside were police helicopters circling over thousands of May Day protesters, lending a slightly apocalyptic tone to proceedings. Inside, the BARB Board and technical experts were watching a presentation from RSMB on their investigations into the huge ratings decline that had followed the new BARB contract that had started in January that year. The migration to a new contractor, new panel homes and new meters had not gone smoothly with the decline in measured audience significantly affecting audience ratings, reach and of course commercial impacts. The problems had crossed over from the trades to the national press with headlines like “'5m viewers lost' as TV ratings in chaos”. RSMB had undertaken a lot of work to forensically understand where the problems lay and this presentation, in those surreal surroundings, was a turning point in getting to grips with the problem and taking the steps needed to get TV audience measurement back on track: which it did as the months progressed.
RSMB’s reputation, built up over 30 years underpinning the UK audience measurement industry from work such as this, was the reason I made my first move to the research agency side of the business, becoming Chief Executive here a year ago , having spent 20 years working in media research at Broadcasters (including ITV, Sky, BBC) and then 10 running industry clearance body Clearcast.
Having worked with RSMB across the years, there were things I knew that I would find. The team has a huge amount of expertise, not just in BARB and RAJAR design and methodologies but across all the main industry currencies, which of course is crucial to our delivery of the fusion for the IPA’s Touchpoints Channel Planner tool. Of course RSMB plays a very important role in ensuring the currency is robust but, at least as importantly, we create solutions that help the currencies meet the pace of industry change, for example developing for BARB the BVOD Planner to help agencies and advertisers plan advertising campaigns across BARB-reported commercial broadcasters’ linear channels and VOD platforms.
What you don’t necessarily see from the outside are all the ingredients that make all this happen at RSMB, for example:
When I joined the company I was curious to the extent the work was the more traditional statistical side of audience measurement or skewed towards data science. The answer is that our work, even for more traditional media, has already evolved to methodologies that require the integration of “big data” whether that is server logs, return path set top box / connected TV data or in-stream tags that identify content, for example our involvement in BARB’s Project Dovetail which provides multiple-screen programme viewing figures.
RSMB’s business is built round bespoke solutions. Of course this includes statistical and data science methodologies that are tailored to each client and their needs, but it also extends through to the systems and software needed to deliver those solutions. Whilst measurement technologies evolve to consumer-centric solutions, it’s entirely possible for different solutions to co-exist. For example, we’ve recently undertaken evaluation work on the WFA Cross-Media Measurement Framework for ISBA’s Project Origin (who have published our report). The WFA/Origin framework is an example of a micro model approach to cross-media measurement. We have also been working with Comcast/Sky to develop the sophisticated CFlight solution which is an example of a macro model that combines and reports total campaign reach and frequency across Sky’s linear and VOD offerings. The work on projects such as these highlights another important facet of RSMB; our reputation is built on experience, transparency and independence. To maintain this reputation we approach our auditing and assessment work in a highly critical way. The most important thing for us is to be honest brokers.
I’ve joined the company at a pivotal moment. The media industry is going to continue to evolve, with fragmentation posing even greater challenges to existing currencies and research methodologies. As an industry we will need to be increasingly creative in how we meet these challenges and also how we make best use of the opportunities they provide. My vision for the next stage of our development is for RSMB to provide the measurement solutions that will enable the media industry to keep up with the rapidly changing patterns of media consumption. We will stay at the forefront by continuing to deliver solutions for our clients that are at the leading edge in terms of methodologies and use of data. Coming over from the media owner side of the business, I am particularly passionate that we need to keep abreast of the changes in the industry to do this as effectively as possible.
Underpinning all of this is an evolution of our tools and processes to ensure that we and our clients stay ahead of the ever increasing volume of data that will be required for managing and maintaining audience measurement solutions, for example introducing machine learning into our QC processes and visual dashboards for use internally and by our clients.
Finally, to round off from where I began. RSMB has a well-earned reputation for ensuring the stability and methodological improvement of our industry currencies and that has benefitted many sectors of the industry for over 30 years. As time has passed we have also become recognised as a centre of excellence for the industry’s first and second generations of data integrations. One year into this role and looking forward, I can say that I plan to ensure that the industry can rely on us, more than anyone else, for developing robust cross-media, cross-platform and consumer-centric measurement solutions to meet the industry’s needs.