Nielsen Media Research has just announced an ambitious and far-reaching change to its traditional methodology for measuring television viewership. Recognizing that video is being consumed not just on televisions but on computer screens, cell phones, and iPods, the company plans to measure viewership on all of those platforms as well. The goal is to give television networks a more complete picture of where, when, and how their content is being consumed.
Television is in a state of flux at the moment as networks try to make sense of the massive changes that digital distribution has made to their traditional business model. With consumer attention increasingly drawn to video games, DVRs, computers, iPods, and television shows on DVD, television advertising revenue has gone flatter than an LCD screen.
Nielsen already tracks DVR usage to address fears by advertisers that they’re paying too much for commercials that consumers ultimately skip anyway (they also plan to use GPS trackers on some people to determine when and for how long they’re sitting in front of the television). Networks have responded by boosting product placements in their shows (a form of advertising that cannot be skipped), but have also realized that they need to embrace new delivery mechanisms.
Nielsen’s new service aims to fill a hole in the current process of measuring digital downloads. Currently, companies like NBC know exactly how many episodes of The Office, for instance, are downloaded from iTunes. What they don’t know is how many times those episodes are being watched and whether they are actually transferred to an iPod—information that would be valuable when trying to sell product placements. Likewise, a network such as ABC will have objective, third-party data on its new streaming service that will enable it to better sell ads.
“What marketers really want is some sort of single-source measurement, to find out what a day in the life of a media consumer is: What they’re watching on cell phones, what they are watching on iPods, what they are watching on linear TV and when they are watching,” said Brad Adgate, a research executive at New York-based ad buyer Horizon Media.
Nielsen hopes to integrate all these measurements to give networks and marketers alike better knowledge of how and where video is consumed. Though this is no announcement about the “death of television,” it does show that the market has realized that it’s all about the video itself, not the device where that video is watched. And increasingly, that device is not the television.