Here’s an interesting challenge for a product placement agency. At HERO we try to provide our clients with as accurate a media value for their onscreen placements as we can. This number is essentially how our ROI can be reported. A brand hires us for X amount, we deliver XX amount in media value, and thus the return is XXX%. We use a proprietary calculation to establish this media value, which is only shared with our clients. However, because we’re generally using the data provided by the universally accepted ratings system, it’s actually wrong. The good news is, even with its flaws, the ROIs we report are uniformly impressive. The bad news, they aren’t nearly as impressive as they could be. And who is at fault? Nielsen!
The Nielsen ratings system started collecting data in the 1920s with brand advertising analysis. The first Nielsen ratings for radio programs were released the first week of December 1947. Since then Americans on both sides of the TV screen have been relying on the company for accurate viewership numbers. But in recent years the viewers and advertisers have extended their viewing and time buying habits respectively and now their entertainment and sports are delivered on multiple screens. Smartphones, tablets and computers now literally replace televisions in many homes. This shift has called the traditionally trusted numbers into question making Nielsen scramble for new ways to collect the data, if they even can.
While product placement in film can still be reasonably assessed through box office numbers, product placement on TV is only moving further from analysis. Last year Netflix took home thirty one nominations and seven Emmys. Transparent on Amazon grabbed two Golden Globes. But burgeoning web-based broadcasters like Netflix, Amazon and even pay cable channels like HBO, etc. are subscription-based. They don’t sell commercial time and have no reason to release their subscriber numbers. In their case, it’s all accounting. If they have enough subscribers to produce their shows and profits, whose business is it how many people are watching? So, even though those networks are grabbing huge viewership, when HERO gets a product hit on, say, House of Cards we can’t report impression numbers. So, what is a respectable product placement agency to do?
The good news is that Nielsen is working hard to reconfigure their data collecting system. But until then HERO clients will just have to understand that the impressive ROIs we’re reporting are grossly under estimated.