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Nielsen Weaves Views From Hulu, YouTube TV Into Traditional Ratings

A not-so-simple question has plagued the TV and advertising industries for years: What is the value of TV programming that is no longer being watched on TV?

A partial answer has arrived.  Nielsen said Tuesday it is now counting views of certain types of programming on Hulu’s live service and YouTube TV, which can then be used as currency in negotiations between TV networks and advertisers. The maneuver would place viewing from so-called “skinny bundles” of programming offered by subscription-video-on-demand players into the mix when Madison Avenue decides what types of content to support.

With the new technology, media companies “are able to measure their content as it flows across platforms, across devices, through whoever is distributing it, then roll it up and include it in their rating numbers,” said Megan Clarken, president of product leadership at Nielsen, in an interview.

The disclosure shows Nielsen attempting to find a solution to a growing problem in the media business. As consumers feel more comfortable with streaming video and mobile devices, monetizing their consumption of one-time couch-potato favorites ranging from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” to NBC’s “This Is Us” and CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” is critical. Traditional TV ratings have continued to ebb, and there is no single solution at present that will tabulate every view of video on an emerging technology. Indeed, there is a growing concern among executives that the industry could face a breakdown in measurement, with advertisers in some cases devising their own standards for audience reach with specific outlets.

Nielsen will now be able to count what it calls “eligible” viewing of Hulu’s or  Google’s YouTube’s live-streaming services and make it count as part of the industry’s commercial-ratings standards. Advertisers pay for commercial time based on rates set according to metrics known as “C3” and “C7,” or views of ads over the first three days or first week of availability of a new episode of a TV show. Nielsen said it could examine digital viewing of live, DVR and on-demand content on the two companies’ services and combine it with traditional linear audience measures. “With this inclusion, Nielsen measurement will provide media buyers and sellers with a more comprehensive and transparent view of audiences engaging with linear TV programming across digital devices,” the company said in an announcement.

To be certain, not all video from Hulu or YouTube will count. A Hulu user enjoying on-demand playback of the streaming-video hub’s critically praised series “The Handmaid’s Tale” or an old episode of the NBC cop drama “Hill Street Blues” would not count. To be part of the new measure, the programming has to “mirror” the commercial load of the original linear TV broadcast and be seen within the three-day or seven days windows.

Both live-streaming services are relatively nascent. Hulu in May unveiled a new live-TV service starting at $39.99 monthly for around 50 channels. The service includes ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC programming (the availability of local TV stations is subject to market)and cable nets including ESPN, CNN, Fox News, TBS, TNT and Disney Channel. Hulu is owned jointly by Comcast, 21st Century Fox, Walt Disney and Time Warner. Google in February said it would launch a 50-channel bundle  priced at less than half the average cost of cable TV. YouTube TV includes live and VOD programming, an unlimited cloud-based DVR (which will store recordings for nine months), and access to the company’s ” YouTube Red” originals programs.

YouTube executives are “already seeing that ​live TV represents the majority of time spent watching on the service,” said Heather Moosnick, director of content partnerships for YouTube TV, in a statement.  “Our network and advertising partners will benefit” from the new measure.

“Our goal is to make it possible for viewers to watch their favorite shows whenever and wherever they want – and be able to measure that viewership,”  said Cindy Davis, executive vice president of consumer experience at Disney-ABC Television Group, in a statement. “We are pleased with Nielsen’s launch of this capability, and look forward to the new insights it enables.”

Nielsen has had the technology available for about two years, Clarken suggested, but had to work with TV networks to gain acceptance. The new measurement tools require media companies to sort of “tag” their content so it can be recognized and tabulated by software. But the company expects viewing of video in new venues to increase: “You have to imagine a world where digital platforms for linear TV is just going to grow,” she said.

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