Kill the GRP


At last week’s Digiday Video Upfronts, we heard a consistent message from the leading buyers in the online video space. “It’s complicated. It needs to be easier to buy.” The silver bullet solution: adopt the GRP used in TV buying as a way to really crack that $70 billion market.
This would be a big mistake. The GRP is a completely outdated metric that doesn’t address the real considerations of buying online video. According to Wikipedia, the GRP is “the product of the percentage of the target audience reached by an advertisement, times the frequency they see it in a given campaign.”  On the surface, that seems to make sense. Reach times frequency. But wait…percentage of target audience? To paraphrase Allen Iverson: Fractions? We’re talking about fractions?
For an industry that has claimed to be the most measurable, why would anyone choose to buy fractions of hypothetically sized audience pools? This is my single biggest objection to the GRP. What is the size of the audience base? Potential reach of video ad networks? That would be disastrous. When audiences are short on TV, broadcasters are forced to offer make goods. Is that something that video publishers are ready for? Even more cynically, in an industry that is still fighting “below the fold” and “auto-play” issues, and where comScore can’t differentiate between streams into video players and streams into banners, how are we even going to size up the audience to use as a denominator? Surely you jest if you’d suggest we use the actual population in the formula.
We know exactly how many people are watching online videos. We work in a world where advertisers can bid on ad impressions in real time on an impression by impression basis. Buying and selling based on GRPs doesn’t make any practical sense for online video.  Reaching a million people is as easy as buying a million impressions with a frequency cap of one. Double the GRP by upping the frequency cap to two. How’s that for simple?
The larger factor holding back the viability of a GRP in online video is that the industry doesn’t have the scale of consistent, high quality video content to make the GRP a useful currency.  Other than Hulu and the other “TV” sites, what online video content has a large enough scale to consistently buy in percentage points? Few have a reliable enough audience to offer a meaningful make good. I’d love for someone to explain how a GRP would make sense on YouTube with myriad videos to watch in short bursts instead of buying a set number of impressions against a specific demographic.
Turning to GRPs as a currency is an effort to standardize something that doesn’t want to be – maybe even shouldn’t  be – standardized. The fact that there’s complexity is because buyers all want to buy in different ways. The industry has become like  Burger King menu. in the online video space, it would over simplify a process that, in my opinion, requires more education and contemplation, not a dumbing down.
Tremor Media chief media officer Jason Krebs explained it quite eloquently when asked about the GRP, “We’re not against GRP.  But we do feel that it doesn’t approach what this medium can do for marketers.  We can reach far more precise audiences with variable creative messaging than GRP-thinking would uphold.”
The industry has a nasty little habit of being attracted to the lowest common denominator, and I don’t think it has served us all that well. The chase for revenue has been driven by short-term thinking that has ultimately caused our industry larger headaches. (Remember The Click.) The online video space will continue to thrive as long as it proves that it is effective and not focus on making the process so efficient that we lose track of what the marketer’s goals really are.

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