YouTube wants advertisers to take its word on how many people are watching its content on connected big-screen TVs. That’s a dangerous precedent, at odds not only with established broadcast conventions but with Google’s own stated principles of transparency, fairness, and independence in media measurement. As an agency that buys billions of Google’s ad impressions every year, we believe advertisers, agencies, platforms, measurement partners, and broadcasters have an interest in maintaining independent and trustworthy third-party verification to keep the playing field even.
As YouTube has evolved from a desktop video player to a mobile app to a connected TV platform, the dynamics of its advertising business has, understandably, changed. With cord-cutters forcing a generational shift in viewing patterns, the stakes are only getting higher as streaming platforms begin playing the biggest game in TV: Live sports. This fall, when you watch an NFL game in your living room, the chances are greater than ever that you’ll be watching YouTubeTV instead of a traditional OTT broadcast.
But bigger screens bring greater complexity. Audience measurement on desktop and mobile is easy: One impression equals one viewer. Clearly, more people are watching the big game when it’s on a living room CTV. With greater reach, it makes sense for Google to ask advertisers to pay more for ads streamed to communal TVs than on mobile or desktop screens. That, in itself, is not a new idea: Broadcasters have long used “co-viewing multipliers” to estimate the number of people in a household who are viewing a broadcast.
The difference is in who measures that audience. Since 1950, Nielsen has been the trusted, independent, third-party arbiter of co-viewing multipliers1—using a mix of audience surveys and set-top box data. But in August 2023, Google announced it would begin billing based on its own internal multipliers—a move that benefits only Google and leaves advertisers in the dark. It also sets a worrying precedent: If the trend continues, we’d expect to see more CTV platforms set up their own internal audience systems—a slippery slope that could quickly kneecap third party audience measurement.
When it comes to audience data, platforms can’t expect advertisers simply to take their word for how many people are watching. If Google wants advertisers to pay more for CTV impressions, then third-party verification of the multiplier is crucial.
That’s not just our view of audience measurement: That’s also Google’s own stated view. According to a statement of principles issued in March, 20232, Google declared that “For YouTube, the solution is straightforward—the industry should agree on, adopt, and adhere to common principles.” Among these principles were that measurement should be “fair & comparable,” as well as “independent & trustworthy: Solutions should be publisher agnostic, marketer-oriented, with transparent and auditable methodologies.” Now we need to hold Google to its word.
1 The change, to be implemented in January, 2024, will apply to YouTube Select inventory, as opposed to inventory purchased through YouTube’s standard auctions. “YouTube Will Trade On Its Own Co-Viewing Data, Sparking Agency Pushback,” Ad Age, August 21, 2023
2 “Charting the course for third-party cross-media audience measurement,” Google Ads & Commerce Blog, March 8, 2023