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From Living Spaces to Testing Spaces: Nielsen Turns Addressable Beta Test into a Virtual Experience

When Nielsen announced the launch of its beta program focused on testing addressable advertising on linear TV programming on smart TVs, the U.S. was still more than two months away from wide-scale shelter-in-place restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The original plan was to establish a ‘Beta Lab’ setup at the TV programmers’ premises so that they could test Nielsen’s Addressable TV solution against their own TV networks. When nationwide self-quarantine mandates became  a reality, Nielsen’s Advanced Video Advertising (AVA) team knew it couldn’t sideline the program until businesses were allowed to re-open. With a timeline to go live after the completion of a successful beta program, the AVA team knew it needed to innovate quickly to stay on track.  

Prior to COVID-19, Nielsen, along with others in the industry, had invested time, resources and human capital to help chart a path for addressable TV advertising. Smart TVs, which are now present in 53% of U.S. homes, enabled this progress with several players, including Nielsen, making great technological strides and building capabilities that deliver addressable TV at scale. It’s taken the industry nearly two decades to achieve this progress, and Nielsen’s AVA team knew this work was far too important to put on hold. Despite the inability to work together in person, the AVA team quickly aligned on a strategy to facilitate the testing of addressable linear TV ads within the confines of a work-from-home (WFH) environment.

“For both marketers and publishers, addressability has become more important across linear TV because they need ads to work more efficiently and deliver greater flexibility and value than ever before. Nielsen’s addressable TV ad solution empowers inventory owners with additional sales options to optimize the value of their ad inventory—but not before proper beta testing,” said Kelly Abcarian, General Manager, Advanced Video Advertising, Nielsen. 

The strategy required the development of a Virtual Lab, which features an online portal, bi-weekly reports on key testing metrics, a live video feed for executing live programming (and scheduled ads) and a recordings repository that stores recorded video of each successful addressable ad replacement. To keep the beta program going, team members turned their living rooms, bedrooms and basements into development centers to power the Virtual Lab. For the live feed, associates set up a camera to film two TVs: one is tuned to a network’s live linear feed and the other is used to show the live real time addressable ad insertions. With both TVs in play, clients are able to log into the online portal and watch addressable ad executions as they happen against their live linear feed or when their schedules permit (via stored recordings).

Nielsen also set up a Home Lab experience for program participants, where all of the necessary equipment, including addressable-enabled TVs, is sent to the homes of their own employees. This in itself has presented logistical challenges that Nielsen needed to be overcome in terms of provisioning the TVs with the required software, keeping them up to date, creating instructions for installing the setup and packing everything so that it doesn’t get damaged in transit.

“Importantly, the Nielsen team isn’t alone in innovating and adapting to move forward amid unprecedented challenges,” said Brian Jentz, SVP of Business Operations, Advanced Video Advertising, Nielsen. “Our beta partners, the TV programmers, are digging in and innovating right alongside us, and that’s been great to see.”

In the addressable space, there is no shortage of challenges, particularly in today’s world. The end goal in each ad insertion is to successfully place a dynamic ad in place of an existing underlying ad. For its testing, Nielsen’s AVA team established two primary KPIs to determine how successful the beta program is amid the virtual operating conditions: the replacement success rate and replacement accuracy. The team also tracks pixelation and audio quality. Ultimately, the objective is to insert a targeted ad as seamlessly as possible without causing any visual or audio disruptions to the viewer. To date, throughout the beta, the AVA team has generated KPI metrics that have well exceeded our targets, which speaks to the quality of the tech as well as the ingenuity of the team amid such unprecedented conditions.

While innovation is hard especially during a global pandemic, we quickly realized that our innovation did not need to be limited to the addressable platform itself.  If there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it is that staring into the face of adversity is the best preparation to ensure future success.  As Kelly has said, “it is from uncertainty and the unknown when real innovation emerges,” that being true, then the best is yet to come.

In the video below, Brad Rouzer, DAI Observer, provides a walk-through of the Nielsen AVA Virtual lab setup.