The Pandora's Box of Pay Per Look in Digital OOH Advertising

Montreal-based Ayuda Media Systems is among many company showing its pots and pans at the big Screen Media Expo event this week in London. One of the big things it will be talking about is its integration of Intel’s anonymous video analytics technology.

Ayuda first started talking at DSE earlier in the year about the concept of pay-per-look billing for Digital Out Of Home networks – the notion that audience counting technology could log how many people actually look at a screen and that could be the basis for billing advertisers.

It’s an interesting notion, but also a bit of a Pandora’s Box being flipped open.

“We were astonished to witness just how much interest our initial demonstration garnered a few months ago. We have been inundated with inquiries from DOOH network operators and ad agencies regarding the possibilities of this concept,” says Andreas Soupliotis, CEO of Ayuda. “This revolutionary concept helps operators demonstrate the value of their networks to advertisers, leveraging audience tracking technology to track who has viewed the screen and then bill based on the number of ‘looks.’ We are excited that the future of ad sales may very well see the networks charge advertisers based on how many people actually look at the ad, versus how many people are merely exposed to it.”

The rationale for pay-per-look is pretty straight-forward, as presented by Ayuda.

Current practice in the ad-based DOOH industry is to bill based on the number of impressions delivered. However, impression counts are typically based on audience measurement research that simply counts how many people are exposed to, or have the chance of being exposed to, an ad. The Pay-per-Look application takes impression counts to the next level by counting people looking at an ad, as opposed to counting people passing by an ad.

By combining anonymous audience detection technology with digital signage software, it becomes possible to detect exactly how many “looks” each campaign received. This is a much more meaningful system for both the network and the advertiser, as the operator justifies the viability of the network while the advertiser benefits from being billed according to precisely how many people viewed the ad.

Here’s the thing. Just about every medium out there has wildly imperfect methods of measurement, including the mother or all mediums, television. Their numbers are all somewhat educated guesses and extrapolations based on counters, diaries and surveys.

The newspaper business I grew up in, for example, has a readership measurement model that – when by circumstance I got to know it and see it compromised – made me giggle at how cooked-up and wild-assed it really was, and how the market was seeded with free copies to get circulation numbers up during measurement periods.

When you wake up in the morning and hear that XX million people watched the season finale of some TV show last night, do you think this is a laser-accurate assessment of how many people actually watched the show intently? Or a big broad guess that gives networks and show sponsors a rough sense of how things went, and what that might mean for future ad buys and their values?

The technology side of this sector is earnestly trying to make what we do better. But the by-product is technology that then raises expectations for Digital OOH performance and accountability that are far, far, far above the standard of what other mediums are being held to.

When you sit and listen to media planning and brand people talk about this sector, what almost always comes up first is a plea for standard measurement, so they have some sense of what’s going to be delivered and how that stacks up or meshes with what will be done in other mediums.

They aren’t demanding any more accountability from Digital OOH than what they get from the more mainstream OOH sector – which is in essence how many people walked or drove by a sign/poster/billboard. Planners are not pushing back, asking how many people actually looked and locked on those signs. In the same way, media people want numbers from Digital OOH that are uniform and reasonable (see DPAA guidelines), and not just wildly inflated and duplicated gross foot-count numbers.

There has been resistance among some media firms to even adhere to the DPAA or CODACAN suggested metrics, because even using those numbers changes what they can sell and charge. So you can imagine how thrilled they’d be to go all the way down to just charging by verified sets of eyes.

I’ve had some private conversations with experienced media sales professionals who get extraordinarily frustrated by efforts that introduce complications and objections to closing ad buys. From their perspective, the media people they talk to everyday know all measurement is imperfect and based on guesswork. Why a new industry – one still struggling to become a routine component of media plans – would want to introduce a new methodology that would introduce more scrutiny and dilute the size of buys just escapes them.

To be fair to Ayuda and Intel, they are clearly positioning this as a concept and not suggesting the industry cut over right now. It’s actually a great discussion to have, and Intel is very actively showing with a number of technologies what’s possible, with an emphasis on possible. Ayuda has done a nice job online painting a pretty detailed portrait of how this would or could look.

There are also people who will argue that introducing higher accountability through technology doesn’t hurt this medium, but instead makes it that much more valuable because it is so tightly measured.

Not convinced, at least not for the way media works right now.

That concept aside, I have always liked the insights that video analytics offers to network operators and brands, and think it is a big part of this sector in the future. Having a strong sense of audience dynamics is invaluable.

Down the road, when this industry has matured, there may well be a role for pay for look. But I think that will have more to do with one-to-one engagements on interactive screens. That’s also a closer correlation to the Pay Per Click online idea that led to this concept.