comScore on data, cookies, and modern media measurement

Despite more staging delays than a James Brown concert, the Cookiepocalypse is looming, and now set to begin in earnest in 2024. But in many ways, the broader shift towards first-party data is already here, as exemplified by Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which requires explicit user opt-in to allow apps to track their behaviour across the apps and websites of other companies. 

The company that is probably in THE strongest position in the world to give us the inside track on these trends – save Google and Apple themselves – is comScore. The analytics company has come a long way since its inception in 1999, when it was set up to monitor browsing behaviour across the web. 

Remember that Google itself was born only one year earlier, and would not launch its own Analytics platform until 2005. 

Me analysing media in 2008, and in print too! 🗞

For my part, as a young analyst at the company, I was very much a kid in a candy store (or ‘sweet shop’ as they used to call them in the UK office). We had access to media trend data the likes of which the world had never seen, and making the headlines as internet users worldwide surpassed 1 billion, or traffic to the Major League Soccer website jumped as David Beckham signed for LA Galaxy, was a research-side thrill that I have resigned myself to the fact I will probably never experience the heights of again.

Box Office numbers

Today, the company remains at the cutting edge of media measurement, tracking everything from ad-effectiveness to box office ratings. 

One comScorian (yes, we do ACTUALLY call each other that) who has been on her own particularly unique media measurement journey, is Tania Yuki, who first joined the company to help enhance its video and social measurement offering in 2008. She is now Chief Marketing Officer and EVP of Digital for the company, and we caught up with her to talk data, cookies, and what successful media measurement looks like today… 

“At comScore, we are really focussed on tracking all of the key platforms that users enjoy content and media on,” says Yuki. “So think of us as a one-stop shop for insights regarding how consumer media consumption is changing, and how the values and priorities of the consumer are changing at large. It’s those sorts of insights that allow marketers to figure out how they can speak to their customers more effectively.” 

“As you alluded to, I was at comScore much earlier in my career, and I left to found a company called Shareablee in the social media analytics space. As luck would have it, I arrived back here when comScore acquired my company at the end of last year! But so much of my thinking has been shaped around the notion that, as a new platform comes out, how can we measure it in a way that makes it useful and really makes it actionable?” 

Yuki says that the difference between analytics today vs when she first joined comScore in 2008 is like night and day, and as the company takes its first steps into metaverse measurement, a big emphasis in 2022 is on bringing multiple datasets together to provide a holistic perspective. 

Of course, for most publishers – and indeed I would hazard a guess most companies full stop – the departure from third-party cookies represents a seminal moment in their digital journeys. 

So how exactly can we face the looming Cookiepocalypse with eyes open, presses rolling, and in a way that ideally places publishers in a stronger digital position, as the providers of premium content environments? 

Image: Luis Alberto Rodriguez, Vogue, September 2022.

“Yeah… gosh, well there’s a lot in that! Look, we always start with is this right and was this inevitable? And then we can start breaking down how we deal with it. And we’re probably on the right side of history to find more sustainable ways to identify and reach consumers than what we’d been doing in the Wild West of cookies.” 

“So I think, even though the industry has gotten a reprieve because it’s been pushed back, whatever the timing is, I believe this is something that’s happening. We’re already limited on Safari for example, and other browsers are going to follow suit, so it’s not a question of when, but it’s coming and it’s a question of how you prepare.” 

Ringing in the next round of media change

When it comes to the media sector in particular, the shift towards reader revenues in recent years has undoubtedly been a smart pivot. But as we have examined many times this year on FIPP.com, the enforced shift towards first-party data is likely to impact different publishers in different ways.  

For Yuki, achieving success in the Web3 era will be as much about mindset, as it is about numbers. 

“In the case of publishers specifically, some were thinking a lot about subscriptions already, and have built out significant first-party data strategies. But for the most part many publishers did not, and certainly if you’re and certainly if you’re a smaller publisher right now you have to be thinking about ways that you can be expressing the value of your audience.” 

“There needs to be some sort of third-party verifiable way of demonstrating this value. And equally from our pov, we’re thinking about how we can add value via our panels at this point, to help publishers and marketers make their case. If they can get more comfortable with their figures, especially knowing that they are third-party verified, then you can then of course by a process of extrapolation also get some sense of what’s coming next.”  

This is an interesting observation, because for many years comScore was known – on both sides of the pond – as the referee of the digital media game. 

You could argue that, as the might of Google and Facebook increased, almost beyond previously held economic beliefs at one point, we saw the need for a referee wane slightly, as traditional publishers threw in the towel and opted to play the reach-frequency game. 

But today, there are signs that some structure is returning to the digital industry. Just yesterday, we reported on the news that BARB – the UK Broadcasters Audience Research Board, has signed a historic deal to welcome Netflix into its trusted measurement system

With the deal, the organisation becomes the first industry-owned currency in the world that Netflix has joined, through which it’s viewing figures can be measured directly alongside those of traditional broadcasters.

So a question that we ask a lot here at FIPP, and I put to Tania, is: despite some short-term upheaval in the way we do business online, could the Cookiepocalyspe ultimately be a good thing for those who provide premium content environments? And indeed, does it represent a shift towards a more tightly structured – and potentially even more tightly regulated – digital media world? 

“Publishers are now in a whole new game of data,” she tells us. “It’s sort of unavoidable, and it’s definitely getting very real, very fast. So we hope to help publishers get prepared, and there’s certainly a lot resources out there to do so. And while I truly hope that in the longterm, yes, this can be a positive, I think in the short-term we’re gonna be wired for a little bit of pain, because it’s gonna take us a little bit of time to get there.” 

“Right out of the gate it’s a lot of additional work that many publishers just hadn’t planned on as of a couple years ago, and it’s going to be a little bit of a hard slog. Because in addition to getting publishers comfortable with their own data, we as an industry need to make sure that consumers are conformable with our products too, and embark on that transformation in a sustainable way without too much disruption.” 

“And it sucks, right!? Like I wish I had a better answer… But I think it’s in The Hard Thing About Hard Things, where it says: there are no silver bullets, just a bunch of lead ones and you have to keep shooting over and over, y’know.” 

“But that’s true for any big data initiative… we often think of data, and machine learning, and technology as if it can somehow solve all our problems in a click… and the reality is that you get there bit by bit through a lot of test and learn, and just handling a bunch of things together that you probably hadn’t planned to.” 

Premium content environments

For Yuki, the impact that trusted brands can have in engaging – and correctly informing consumers today, still has a huge part to play in the digital ecosystem. 

“I think, and you alluded to it in one of your earlier questions, there’s a lot of work being done by publishers, and by companies like ours, thinking about how to express unique value. There’s a lot to be said for content that matters and content that empowers people, and premium content environments do that.”

“As much as we’re in this constantly distracted state and things are popping and we’re clicking, I do think that we’re still in a pretty low trust environment in the world. So as a result, the source of content does matter and I think we’re going to start to see more value transfer as a result of that, which I think will be good for many publishers who work so hard to create quality content.” 

And finally, I’m well out of the loop here aren’t I, working publisher side, so I had to ask Tania, are there any big comScore updates coming down the track this year and next… that she’s allowed to tell us about!? 

“So there’s one that’s sort of near and dear to me that I am allowed to talk about, which is a new iteration of our Total Digital product. And what that’s about really is taking a lot of our data that lives in many different reports, as well as from our new data like the Shareablee reports on TikTok or Instagram reels, and bringing it all together in a really collaborative, sort of beautiful, dashboard.” 

“I mean, we have not always been known for collaborative, beautiful dashboards! But we believe that with so many people still working from home and not in the same sorts of environments, a lot of how we do our work is transforming.”

“And we need to help facilitate research and democratise data and make sure that it’s easier to use. So you can drag and drop, it’s super easy to use, and clients can create their own individual reports that you may not even think about, which is really cool!” 

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