Keeping track of VNR airplay is key to evaluating success, but Andrew Gordon finds gathering accurate information to be a complex taskThere are no guarantees in life, and the same uncertainty holds true for VNR monitoring.
Despite a plethora of available technologies, none of the systems currently used for following where, when, and how VNRs air are 100% accurate, says Shoba Purushothaman, CEO of The NewsMarket, and none of these monitoring systems works perfectly. But if clients understand how the technologies function, how to properly set expectations, and how to interpret the information they get back, the experience will be more fruitful than frustrating.
The technology most companies use to track VNRs - and one that's become an industry standard - is a Nielsen Media Research product called SIGMA. SIGMA is a verification service that electronically detects airplay of VNRs distributed to TV stations, broadcast networks, and cable networks by placing a trackable code on every copy. SIGMA can then monitor each airing 24 hours a day, providing information such as the market name and rank, the station, the date, the start time the VNR was broadcast, and the duration it played, as well as exactly what portion of the VNR was used.
Because of these capabilities, and the fact that SIGMA monitors the top 200 media markets in the US, VNR companies such as Medialink, Multivision, DS Simon Productions, MultiVu, News Broadcast Network, and The NewsMarket all rely on it as their foundation for monitoring.
But since stations and networks manipulate and cut VNRs to fit their own needs, there is a possibility that the SIGMA encoding will be stripped, which is why many VNR companies use additional services as safety nets. Some firms, like Medialink, even create their own proprietary systems to back up SIGMA. Medialink's system, called Teletrax, not only provides that extra backup, but also tracks VNRs in over 50 countries, while SIGMA is limited to the US, says Susan Macaluso, Medialink's associate VP of corporate communications.
DS Simon and MultiVu both also use Vericheck, a service that doesn't have SIGMA's breadth but offers encoding that is harder to strip when in the hands of television stations. MultiVu and News Broadcast Network also use a monitoring service called VMS, which relies on closed-caption technology that tracks keywords in a broadcast.
Some companies have multiple backups. The NewsMarket, for example, relies on SIGMA, closed captioning, and its own proprietary service that alerts the media via e-mail as to what kind of VNRs are available on its site. The system then tracks who has downloaded which VNRs, something that can't be done with satellite feeds used by other distribution services, says Purushothaman.
But all this talk of stations, markets, and duration is nothing without knowing the context in which a VNR is shown. And that is the one thing clients must ask when deciding what service to use - what will the results tell them? It's meaningless for clients to say they want a certain number of hits without factoring in how the VNR was used and what impression it gave viewers, says Purushothaman. TV is a much different animal than print journalism, she adds, noting that it is harder to get on TV, which makes it all the more powerful.
Understanding the context of the airing is key to interpreting any collected data, adds Michael Buxbaum, SVP of business development and marketing at Bacon's Information. Whether five million viewers across the US are better than one million in a targeted audience is up to the client's needs, but it's always crucial to understand the context in which the VNR is shown. Clients must heed the quality of the information they receive just as much as the quantity, and that can mean having a person actually watch an airing to understand the nuances of how the client was portrayed.
To help provide that context, Multivision backs up SIGMA with technologies such as closed captioning and speech recognition, along with manual observation, explains Multivision VP of marketing Brent Bamberger.
Bacon's Information also has people watching news footage as part of its own proprietary system, giving it greater control in determining the context in which a VNR was used, says Buxbaum, adding that his company's technology does not have the breadth of SIGMA, but still captures the top 140 markets, which represents 94.1% of viewers.
Once tracking is completed, VNR companies offer various ways for clients to get monitoring information, from hard copies and e-mail to websites with up-to-the-second information.
"All of these technologies and companies will tell you when and where it aired, for how long, and who saw it," says MultiVu president Tim Bahr. "You can put a lot of bells and whistles on a service, but it comes down to results."
VNR companies offer clients reports that can be sliced and diced to present information in any number of ways. Clients can have information broken down so they can see within a given market, such as the Bay Area, how many people saw the VNR on cable stations versus the networks, and then break that down even further, such as which cable stations commanded what size audience when the VNR aired.
Bamberger asserts the importance of making sure a VNR company can provide information that not only tells a client how its VNR penetrated the target audience, but also provides information that can be used to make wiser decisions next time.
"You must understand what kind of return you're getting in certain markets and from certain stations and networks," explains Bamberger. "You should be able to look at the information and realize that a certain cable network doesn't touch VNRs, that they're all about live interviews. Or that a network affiliate in a certain market uses VNRs more than the others in the area. The information you get should not only tell you how well your VNR did this time, but also help you do a better job next time."
Clients used to send VNRs like they were casting wide nets, adds Michele Wallace, SVP of operations at Medialink. Now they are much more focused and rely on monitoring to make sure they're hitting their target.
"You can't throw a VNR out to the wind anymore," she says. "There's a lot of research that is done before it ever gets distributed. And that means monitoring has to be more accurate than it has previously."
Do use technologies beyond SIGMA that act as safety nets
Do use a service that can get the information to you quickly
Do use a service that has a proven track record
Don't be swayed by bells and whistles. Make sure the service provides in-depth results
Don't focus solely on quantity. Understanding the context in which the VNR was presented is just as important, if not more so
Don't expect any monitoring technology to be 100% accurate