Changes in TV audience measurement present challenges not only for research and publicity folks at the networks, but also for the reporters, who get the data, along with a proprietary spin.

Last month, in a bid to get everyone on the same page heading into the new season — or at least on the same book — execs from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox gathered with reporters on the Fox lot to discuss the ways new technologies are affecting ratings. It was a rare gesture of camaraderie among rivals, but it underscores the industry’s frustration, knowing that programs are increasingly being watched on platforms not tracked by Nielsen.

Fox research chief Will Somers presented charts detailing viewership of hit series on each of the Big Four networks. The charts measured, over the course of a month or more, viewing done online and via VOD as tracked by Nielsen, Rentrak and Hulu, along with proprietary data from the networks.

But to the frustration of scribes, each net offered different measurement parameters.

Fox execs leading the meeting acknowledged that the get-together was “a first step,” and that they were hoping to start a conversation.

But this fall at least, there’s no consensus on how to report all those apples and oranges.

Deciphering the Landscape

The skinny on the different ways networks are selling their viewers (or trying to sell them) to advertisers:

WHAT IT IS: The standard metric for the buying and selling of TV advertising. Encompasses viewing of the commercial breaks within programs done within three days of the live telecasts. If a viewer skips past an ad using the fast-forward button on a DVR, the view does not count.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Ad buyers recognize that the C3 metric, which has been in use only since 2007, is merely a stopgap as more TV aficionados embrace time-shifting and new platforms. C3 only works if the same exact advertising load that runs in the initial live telecast moves along with the show to another video venue.

WHAT IT IS: An effort by the major networks to get paid for viewers who watch programs up to a week after the premiere telecast. As delayed viewing continues to grow, the networks want credit for viewing over a longer time frame.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Ad buyers largely shut this debate down during this year’s upfront market. A good chunk of advertising is timesensitive, such as a studio buying Thursday-night spots to push a Friday bow. Buyers say they’d consider more deals based on C7 numbers if the networks would give them a break on annual price increases.

METRIC/PLATFORM: VOD and Dynamic Ad Insertion
WHAT IT IS: With more TV fans using free video-on-demand to catch up on their favorite programs, TV networks have started to plug some of this viewing into the schedules they offer advertisers.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: To get a VOD view to count in the ratings, networks have to run the exact load of ads that accompanied the TV show in its initial broadcast. Because there’s no credit for viewing after three days, the nets are testing a process by which they digitally insert new, more relevant advertising for people who may watch via VOD days or weeks later.

WHAT IT IS: Most TV networks offer “full episode players” that let viewers watch selected episodes with fewer ads that cannot be skipped.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: Ad buyers sometimes use these venues to complement their TV buys and to reach viewers who may not watch linear TV at all. Buyers like the detailed demographic data provided by digital network platforms and Hulu. But the differences in the ad load on TV and VOD vs. streaming makes it hard for networks to cume all that viewing.

METRIC/PLATFORM: Authentication
WHAT IT IS: On-demand access to network programming via streaming for viewers who subscribe to cable, satellite and telco subscription services.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: These TV Everywhere services have been slow to take root with viewers, but networks hope they can be a forum for C7 and dynamic ad insertion.

WHAT IT IS: As more consumers adopt smartphones and tablets into their daily lives, some video streaming is migrating to these portable screens.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE: At present, there is no standard measure for these devices that all sides agree upon, said Kris Magel, exec veep and director of national broadcast for media buyer Initiative. Nielsen is working on ways to capture that viewing, but the playing field is wide open.