×

Nielsen Faces ComScore as Digital Ratings Wars Heat Up

Preston Beckman had been listening to executives from Nielsen and ComScore snipe at each other for almost 10 minutes when at last he spoke up. “This is starting to sound like ‘Oklahoma!’ ” the former Fox and NBC scheduling executive said. “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

The occasion last week was an HRTS panel about the future of TV measurement, moderated by Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein. That ComScore’s Gian Fulgoni and Nielsen’s Eric Solomon were talking smack — nerdy smack about data sets and methodologies — was no surprise. Their companies are in a race to become the gold standard for measuring video across digital and television platforms. It’s a competition from which neither may emerge a clear victor, but one that will likely benefit producers.

Last year, Nielsen began releasing total audience measurement data to clients who opted into the new product, which gauges viewership across television and digital. ComScore rolled out its own cross-platform tool this year after finalizing its merger with Rentrak. Nielsen and ComScore employ different methodologies, but both are trying to meet industry demand to bridge the measurement gap between linear television and digital.

To illustrate the width of that gap at the HRTS panel, FX research chief Julie Piepenkotter noted that by digital-world standards, TV miniseries “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” drew 259 billion views. That metric, Piepenkotter said, “is creating an extraordinarily false … and meaningless narrative.”

Data Difference
The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” viewership varied based on form of measurement.
259b No. of two-second “views” the series received
7.5m No. of viewers averaged in live-plus-seven ratings

And it is happening as digital encroaches on television’s advertising supremacy. A Magna Global study last year predicted that digital ad sales would overtake TV sales in 2016.

But new tools providing uniformity are unlikely to matter much to this year’s upfront ad sales. Nielsen will not release total-audience data until later this year — at the request of clients who do not want it to muddy the upfront waters. And although ComScore landed a deal with Viacom last month to provide cross-platform metrics to sell against, that data will be a supplement to traditional Nielsen ratings.

Where cross-platform numbers will matter soonest is in dealmaking between networks and studios. Networks have become serious about locking up more digital rights for the shows they air. Most continue to sell digital ads separately from television ads, but a reliable multiplatform measurement lends negotiating power to the studios, giving them a clearer picture of a show’s overall value.

It also potentially cracks the Netflix problem. The streaming service has been tight-lipped about viewership, even denying information to its producing partners. But Nielsen has, through audio-recognition software, begun gathering data on Netflix’s original series on behalf of clients who produce them. Those numbers will likely come in handy in future negotiations.

And should buyers and sellers decide to make multiplatform a bigger part of the 2017 upfront, they have a whole year to decide whose methodologies and data sets they like better.

More Digital

  • BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 18: (EDITORIAL

    Dax Shepard, Bobby Bones, 'Breakfast Club' Among iHeartRadio Podcast Awards Winners

    iHeartRadio launched its first ever Podcast Awards on Friday (January 18) in Los Angeles. Among the winners in 22 categories were “Whine Down with Jana Kramer” (Best Entertainment TV Podcast); “Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard (Breakout Podcast); “Bobbycast” (Music Podcast); and “The Breakfast Club” (Best Multicultural Podcast). The winners were determined by iHeartRadio listeners. Taking the top prize of Podcast [...]

  • Velvet Buzzsaw trailer

    Netflix Original Movies: What to Look Forward To in 2019

    Following the biggest fourth-quarter worldwide subscriber gain ever and some controversy around increased prices in the U.S., Netflix looks to keep its momentum going into 2019. From Jan. 18 through March, the streaming site will release 10 original films, including action-packed thrillers, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, quirky comedies, inspirational dramas, an artistic horror movie and a viral [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. The deal suggests that Apple sees docu [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Unveils Financial Data for DTC Unit, Sets April 11 for Investor Presentation

    Disney has rejiggered its business segments for earnings reporting to make room for the new unit housing its global streaming operations. Disney on Friday released restated earnings for fiscal 2018, 2017 and 2016 to give investors and financial analysts better visibility into its spending on the launch of the Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and other [...]

  • Facebook Logo

    Release of Docs to Reveal How Facebook Made Money Off Children

    Documents related to a 2012 lawsuit against Facebook in which children, sometimes unwittingly, spent their parents’ money on games via the social site will be unsealed, according to a Monday ruling from the United States District Court. The court gave Facebook ten days to file unredacted documents in accordance with the ruling. The 2012 lawsuit [...]

  • Facebook Logo

    Facebook Sets Up New Product Group for AR Glasses (Report)

    Facebook has restructured its augmented and virtual reality research division and set up a new group tasked with building augmented reality (AR) glasses, according to a new Business Insider report. Facebook acknowledged the move in a statement given to the publication, saying that the move affected “a few hundred people.” The group has already built [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content