Nielsen and the New Way We Watch TV
Cable cord-cutters, you can't escape the system. Nielsen will include Internet and streaming TV in its ratings calculations, in a move to step into the 21st-century. But it still has a long way to go before it catches up to changing viewing habits.
Watch Kitten Videos? Nielsen Knows
If you watch most of your TV through the Web, then congratulations, you're eligible to become a Nielsen family. The ratings services company said it'll begin measuring households that stream Internet into their living room TV set, according to Pat McDonough, Nielsen vice president for insights. In a general statement, the company said it needs to better reflect changing media consumption habits.
That means if you use an Xbox, PlayStation, Roku set-top box, Aereo or even hooked-up laptops to stream online shows to your television screen, you can be part of the Nielsen system, even if you don't subscribe to cable or even receive free broadcast TV. The company won't include services like Netflix, however, because they don't show advertising.
Nielsen's ratings are a powerful industry metric that often help broadcasters decide which shows are popular with which demographics. They also guide TV executive's programming decisions as well as advertising rates.
File Under: Duh
If you don't love under a rock, Nielsen's move seems like an obvious one. But the pace of decision-making in entertainment is often slow compared to the rate of innovation in technology. The company remains decidedly analog: its participants still use pencil and paper to note what and when they watch. Then they mail it off the old-fashioned way -- with envelopes and stamps.
But even the most stalwart TV executives know that a significant part of the audience has shifted online -- and ratings need to count them to give a more accurate picture of the audience. Advertisers need a better idea whether their ads are reaching their targets, programmers want to know what shows are popular and executives want to discover previously overlooked pockets of opportunity. Under that collective pressure, Nielsen is modernizing -- finally.
But the company isn't the only entertainment firm expanding its measurement system. Music publication Billboard, which charts music sales and radio play every week, added YouTube streams in its ratings. The move had an immediate effect on its ratings, propelling hip-hop single "Harlem Shake" -- a viral video sensation -- to the top of the influential Hot 100 chart.
Smaller Screens on the Horizon
Nielsen's move, though, won't have such a dramatic effect -- most people still watch TV from cable. But the company said it hopes to include smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices in its system, which offers a more accurate picture of how audiences are shifting. It'll likely decide to expand its metrics much faster than it took to include online streaming -- it debated streaming for over two years before adding it to the ratings calculations. And as online viewing takes off, Nielsen will need to adapt quickly to the changing viewing landscape.
Nielsen ratings will boost numbers, which dropped in recent years from DVR use, disruptions by Netflix and changes in online viewing habits, like binge-watching. In those sectors, advertising has been depressed from declining ratings.
In the bigger picture, streaming will change the ratings game. Advertisers, for example, will have a better idea of the impact of mobile ads, which have yet to command the same rates as their TV counterparts. Once Nielsen measures the real impact of online viewers, that disparity will shrink. On the other hand, you can expect more ads to disrupt your streaming, creating some friction in the online experience. Advertisers go where the eyeballs are, and if that's online, that's where the ads will follow.
TV programmers, too, want a fuller picture of what really hits, and the future impact is unpredictable yet fascinating. Younger audiences, for example, watch more TV online, and networks may begin to develop Web shows once measurement data for them grows. Cult shows that struggle to stay on air will have a stronger chance too, since audiences often wait to watch them online. But all that depends on what data Nielsen can gather and share, which will finally show the real impact of streaming and online TV. ♦
Categories: Media Mind