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TV Researchers Talk Changing Measurements, ‘People v. O.J. Simpson’ and Buzzfeed’s Watermelon

New measurements are changing the ways that advertisers buy across all video platforms — digital and television. But not all metrics are created equal. Speaking at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s spotlight breakfast Tuesday, FX research chief Julie Piepenkotter illustrated that point by comparing “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” to a watermelon.

Specifically, Piepenkotter spoke about last week’s Facebook Live video that featured two Buzzfeed employees wrapping rubber bands around a watermelon until it exploded. Buzzfeed bragged afterward that the video had 880,000 viewers at its highest point.

“That’s like the two-second view that we see in digital currency right now, which is creating an extraordinarily false narrative and a meaningless narrative,” Piepenkotter said. Applying the same metric to her network’s offering, “The episodes of ‘O.J. Simpson’ to date would have been 143.9 million hours viewed and 259 billion views.”

Shortly after the panel finished, FX released ratings information for “People v. O.J. Simpson” hailing it as the most-watched new cable series of 2016.

Piepenkotter was joined onstage at the Beverly Hilton by Nielsen’s Eric Solomon, ComScore’s Gian Fulgoni, NBC and Fox veteran Preston Beckman and moderator and Variety co-editor in chief Andrew Wallenstein to discuss the future of television measurement. Piepenkotter brought up the watermelon-“People v. O.J. Simpson” comparison as the conversation turned toward the question of whether TV, long dependent on the single currency of Nielsen’s ratings, was turning into a multi-currency world.

Courtesy of HRTS

“I think we’re on our way to a multi-currency world,” Fulgoni said. “Whatever is agreed to between the buyer and seller is what will be used. And it’s already started.”

Both Nielsen and comScore are in the process of rolling out new products that would measure video across television and digital platforms, though the two companies use very different methodologies — Nielsen’s emphasizing panel-based measurement, comScore focusing on census-based.

Part of that effort is increasing measurement of subscription video on demand platforms such as Netflix, which has declined to make viewership data for its series and movies public, arguing that it doesn’t need to do so because it is not an ad-supported service. Wallenstein asked to what extent measurement companies are able to gather data on such services.

“I’m not losing sleep about Netflix,” Piepenkotter said. She added, “I’m happy for their success. But they’re not part of the buying and selling ecosystem that we live in.”

But Beckman predicted that could change.

“I think there’s going to come a time when Netflix will start selling ads,” he said. Until that moment, he added, there will be no compelling reason for Netflix to syndicate viewership data. “When does it have to be public? It has to be public when there’s a need for it to be public.”

Nielsen, however, is gathering data on Netflix programming that it does not release to its wider client base. Solomon said that information is sought by clients who create content for the streaming services.

“We know for sure that there’s interest understanding those numbers, because we’re measuring them on behalf of the content producers,” he said. “But we’re careful, because we can’t syndicate that data. That data stays private.”

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