« Back to Posts

Nielsen TV Ratings TV Critics Association

Can Nielsen’s Total Audience Initiative Keep Up With Media’s Fracturing Reality?

There aren’t many companies more central to their industry, yet more criticized, than Nielsen, source of the live-or-die ratings that have long shaped what people see on their TVs.

But as the notion of “TV” has fractured, becoming video entertainment delivered across dozens of devices through countless over-the-top apps, video on demand, DVRs, mobile services as well as broadcast, basic and premium cable/satellite services, the company has been left in Endless Whack A Mole mode.

Total Audience Measurement ratings TV advertisingCan Nielsen expand its measurement tools broadly enough and quickly enough to capture all the new ways viewers are watching “TV,” in ways that are valuable to its clients?

We got another demonstration of Nielsen’s challenges at the recent TV Critics Association gatherings.

Two top Nielsen executives –  SVPs of product leadership Brian Fuhrer and Kelly Abcarian –  discussed the company’s latest additions to its Total Audience initiative, where it’s moving into seemingly unlikely but possibly important new areas.

TV ratings Nielsen TCA Robin Abcarian “If you think about total audience, it’s really not a one-dimensional thing,” said Abcarian. “People view across time, across platforms, across different distribution opportunities. It makes measurement even more important. We’ve been focused on being flexible, and helping clients think about how to window up programming.”

One example is Live+35. Plenty of industry types know (and argue about) Live+3 and Live+7, total viewership from the day of a show’s release through three or seven days after. But now Nielsen is tracking views up to 35 days, or more than a month, after a show debuts.

Can Nielsen’s client networks charge a higher price because of views two or three weeks after a show debuts? No, not yet, the Nielsen execs acknowledged.

“We’re just trying to empower our clients,” Fuhrer said. “Even if I don’t change the definition of currency yet, at least this allows me to show people what they’re getting for free. If you look at the additional audience out there, at least people are beginning to entertain the possibility of a 14-day viewing period.”

The longer measure also may provide great value in understanding the true audience for a given show, whether there’s momentum in audience growth, how that audience finds it, and how the client might adjust its pitch to advertisers.

“You can bring that full-picture view of how consumers are truly engaging with great content,” Abcarian said.

“Good Behavior,” a TNT show, has seen ‘incredible lift on VOD” between 4 and 35 days after each episode debuted, Abcarian said, particularly as the show’s episodes unfolded and more audiences discovered it, then needed to catch up on back episodes.

Importantly, late-comer viewers on VOD are much younger (by 15 years’ average age) and  more affluent (by $18,000 in average income) than the Live+3 audience. That’s a big deal in advertiser terms.

With other shows, even on the same network, the mix of live views, DVR and VOD can vary substantially. Regardless of the mix, as options grow, so does that lengthening tail of an audience.

Hit CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” for instance, has 23.3 million viewers on an L+35 basis, compared to 13 million overnight. That’s a 66-percent jump. If advertisers don’t pay directly for that big late-comer audience, there may be other ways for CBS to monetize, the Nielsen executives suggested.

“VOD has just exploded,” Fuhrer said. “It’s driven us to think of content differently. Every piece of content has always been tied back to a specific distributor. Now we’re taking a step back and tracking it through its entire life cycle. (Content creators need to think,) ‘How do I monetize this piece of content?'”

Another potential big deal that Fuhrer and Abcarian identified? Out-of-home viewers. Not surprisingly, sports and news are most likely to benefit from views in bars, airports and other public gathering places.

Networks such as ESPN with live sports broadcasts and CNN with the James Comey Congressional testimony have seen spikes in audience of 10 percent or more thanks to out-of-home viewing

But, Fuhrer said, “Out of home is a big opportunity for TV in general,” and promised more news soon about the sector.

There’s plenty out there to keep Nielsen’s data scientists hopping. The changes, just in the last week, in the industry were remarkable, as several companies positioned themselves for the future:

  • Disney said it will end its film and TV licensing deal with Netflix after 2018, and finally launch standalone SVOD apps for that content as well as ESPN. My esteemed colleague Alan Wolk has a few ideas about What It All Means here.
  • To console itself, Netflix bought comic-book giant-in-the-making Millarworld, and announced the debut of a David Letterman talk show.
  • Facebook unveiled its new “Watch” tab, home for its premium video initiative, and disclosed programming deals with National Geographic, Major League Baseball, Univision, Time Inc.,Hearst and more than two dozen other providers.
  • Apple Music finally debuted Carpool Karaoke, spun off from James Corden’s The Late, Late Show on CBS and one of Apple’s first original video shows.
  • New services keep arriving. Amazon Channels added BritBox, which features BBC and ITV shows such as Dr. Who, East Enders and Coronation Street. (link:  http://www.amazon.com/channels/britbox) BritBox’s direct competitors, just on Amazon Channels alone, include PBS Masterpiece, Acorn TV, British Pathe’ and Best of British.
  • Former Fox News Channel star Bill O’Reilly, forced out over a series of sexual-harassment lawsuits, launched a subscription-only 30-minute news show on his website.
  • NBC officially killed its inexplicably named comedy service SeeSo, many weeks after the CEO departed and much of the staff were laid off.
  • The film business is getting hammered. The stock price for movie chain AMC plunged 27 percent after a miserable quarter and an 11-percent drop in summer box office. The four biggest movie chains lost $1.3 billion in value since Aug. 1. (link: http://variety.com/2017/biz/news/summer-movie-business-1202519863/ )
  • FX network chief John Landgraf used his annual summer TCA pulpit to Skynet about Peak TV, referring to the “titanic struggle” between traditional media and the tech giants . “I want the humans to be able to hold their own against the strength of the machines,” he said. His network also launched the standalone app/service FX+.

As options like those in this week’s news expand, Nielsen will continue to be challenged to keep up, though its executives believe they’re keeping pace. We’ll see how that plays out.

“Customers have asked when is it total?,” Abcarian said. “I do believe we’re getting close. CBS is sharing with their clients conversations about how to monetize those audiences and get at those audiences. Measurement has always been a team sport. In the digital landscape, there’s work to be done there too.”