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YouTube, with Nielsen Rating, Could Get Millions from TV Ad Buyers — But It Needs Premium Content

Vidsite to be included in Nielsen's cross-platform measurement panel by early 2014

YouTube global head of content Robert Kyncl has bragged that the video site reaches more U.S. viewers 18-34 than any single TV network. But it hasn’t provided marketers a gauge of how YouTube ads perform in relation to Nielsen’s TV ratings, the de facto currency for television.

That’s set to change. Google has agreed to have YouTube measured under Nielsen’s TV-plus-online ratings service. As a result, the video site stands to pick up considerably more in business from advertisers and agencies, according to Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser — assuming, that is, YouTube has enough premium inventory to sell.

“We believe that at the individual media-agency level, Google left as much as tens of millions of dollars in annual media budgets on the table” because of its previous position, Wieser wrote in a research note. That’s because many advertisers only want to buy inventory that can be consistently measured across TV and online, and therefore they may have been selective in spending money with YouTube over the past few years, he said.

But there’s a huge caveat: YouTube still has a dearth of premium content that traditional TV advertisers desire. Furthermore, YouTube is resetting the revenue-sharing terms for virtually all of its content partners — including TV networks and studios — to receive the standard 55/45 split, eliminating the 70/30 deals several premium partners previously had. YouTube is offering potential upside, letting content providers keep all revenue sold above the site’s rate card, but some believe the rev-share change will earn them less — and that could result in less professional video on the site.

In any case, “Google will need to invest substantially more on content than it does presently in order to be competitive,” Wieser wrote.

Starting in 2011, YouTube did invest in content through the YouTube Original Channels initiative, spending an estimated $200 million to fund exclusive programming. But the site has pulled back from that strategy, letting the deals with those partners roll off this year.

SEE ALSO: YouTube’s New Deal: Biz Wary of Revised Ad-Sharing Terms

Previously Google had refused to participate in Nielsen’s Online Campaign Ratings for reasons that aren’t completely clear; for one thing, the company has been developing its own measurement and analytics tools. YouTube has been counted in comScore’s Validated Campaign Essentials, or VCE, cross-platform service, but comScore doesn’t have Nielsen’s stranglehold on TV.

A Nielsen rep said following a brief testing period, Nielsen measurement tags are expected to be accepted across all Google properties, including YouTube and Google Display Network, by early 2014. The Internet giant’s decision to work with Nielsen was first reported by Adweek.

“This development is further evidence of the momentum and broad marketplace support for our efforts to deliver independent measurement of advertising campaigns across distribution platforms,” Nielsen said.

Without direct access to YouTube — the No. 1 online video destination — Nielsen’s OCR has had a pretty big blind spot. Nielsen has a deal with Facebook to aggregate age and gender data on online users, cross-referenced with about 10,000 of the 20,000 homes in the research firm’s National People Meter panel.

The Nielsen-YouTube gap frustrated TV networks, which have wanted to demonstrate cumulative cross-platform reach to marketers. “If I run a clip of ‘Conan’ on YouTube, Nielsen can’t count it, because Google will not share their data with Nielsen,” Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting, said in an interview earlier this fall.

Now, YouTube should win more business from large ad buyers who use Nielsen’s OCR metrics to allocate spending across TV and web video. In terms of audience reach, Wieser wrote, “as it stands now, we think that YouTube might be considered among third-tier cable networks for a TV buyer,” roughly comparable to National Geographic Channel and Bravo.

But don’t expect a massive shift from traditional TV budgets to YouTube. Instead, Google is likely to pick up share from online video ad networks including Tremor Video, YuMe and AOL, “as these sources of online video inventory were likely among the beneficiaries of money that Google essentially turned away,” Wieser said.