November 29, 2015

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04/14/03 Is One Company Damaging Radio In The Eyes Of Advertisers?

Nearly 15 years ago, I began a project in conjunction with a professor at the University of Illinois Carbondale and some entrepreneurs. Our goal was to embed invisible codes in all audio so that a monitoring system could tell advertisers: What spots ran on which stations; did they run at the correct time; did they run in completion and at the proper speed (yes, stations then were accelerating spots); and were they run without being stepped on? For years, national advertisers have been calling for accountability and exact proof of performance. Affidavits were not enough, because it was suspected that far too many were falsified. Radio networks also wanted this data so they could know that stations were clearing their spots correctly. At the time, the technology just could not be perfected, and universal support was not available.

Today, several companies have been working on digital watermarking technology. Though the end result is promising, this arena of accountability is fraught with serious land mines.

At the front of this digital watermarking movement is a startup called Verance, based in San Diego. This company has developed technology that is supposed to achieve accountability in tracking exact airplay for Radio ads. Its CEO, Steve Saslow, is a former Radio network executive who has a reputation for excellence and success.

Iím told that Verance approached the Radio networks early on, looking for cooperation. After all, it would be to their benefit if they indeed wanted true accountability (which I believe most want). While teaming with the Radio entities to make sure that the technology functioned well, the company allegedly began approaching major advertisers and agencies, selling them on the technology and getting their clients to embed the tracking technology in their ad campaigns. Smart strategy: If the clients want it, the Radio business and agency world would have no option but to join in.

The problem is that the technology does not appear to be perfected to produce 100-percent accuracy. Iím told that several advertisers who used the technology to track their Radio ads found a serious discrepancy in what they ordered vs. what actually aired. These advertisers are now convinced that Radio did not deliver what was purchased.

On the other hand, at least one Radio network says it did deliver, but it expressed the opinion that perhaps Verance should not have led advertisers to believe that the product was ready. Radio networks spent thousands of man-hours over many weeks to prove that the spots indeed ran as purchased. Why did they have to go through this? Did Verance jump the gun, leading clients to believe that its technology worked? According to the networks, it does not work 100 percent, and the networks had not yet signed off on its viability. As a result, some network execs believe it is poisoning Radio in the eyes of many clients. One Radio network manager told us that he believes the company knew that the tests were inconclusive and that the technology was still not working when these clients were approached.

Was this irresponsible and damaging? I think so.

Verance owes the Radio industry, for making Radio look bad, and advertisers, for leading them to believe that their technology works when tests at the Radio networks were indicating otherwise. In my view, Verance should write an open letter to the Radio and advertising industry, apologizing in Radio Ink and in the major advertising publications. Why? It has damaged Radioís reputation with advertisers who believed its data and who now believe Radio did not deliver what was contracted. Without an apology, these advertisers may believe that Radio is not clearing their ads, which is not the case. This could cost Radio hundreds of millions of dollars in lost future revenue.

I think the concept of accountability and monitoring systems is a critical next step for Radio and for advertisers. I applaud the efforts of the Radio Advertising Bureau, which is responding to this need with its accountability initiatives. I hold out hope that technology such as that offered by Verance someday soon will work 100 percent. I would like nothing more than success for Verance and others. When it is ready, Radio will support it. Until it does work, advertisers and clients should demand firm proof of technical compliance, certified by an independent authority and by the Radio networks.

Though I do not believe there was any malice or intent to deceive from Verance, its eagerness to bring the product to market may have caused Radio a problem. An over-eager sales effort should not be permitted to harm the reputation of Radio because of unperfected technology and flawed data.

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