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CBS Releases ‘Total Content’ Viewership Measures as Upfront Market Looms

CBS, which has long touted itself as America’s most-watched TV network, wants advertisers and others to give it credit for other viewing experiences as well.

With TV’s annual “upfront” ad sales market just weeks away, CBS threw a potential new wrinkle into the mix by releasing a first batch of Nielsen-backed “total content ratings” that measure not only linear TV watching but also viewing by DVR playback and through video on demand. The network said it intends to add viewing done through online and mobile streaming at a later date.

“The numbers are coming in at the levels of audience around 2000, which was a time when time-shifted viewing was not measured,” said David Poltrack, chief research officer of CBS Corp., in an interview.

CBS said the broader measures added between around 1.6 million viewers (“The Odd Couple”) to more than 9.7 million viewers (“The Big Bang Theory”) on a live-plus-same day basis  – about 4.7 million on average when 22 different primetime programs were taken into account. The shows mustered an average increase of about 1.78 million on a live-plus-seven-day viewing window, the network said.

Few TV-network executives expect any sort of total-content viewership to be adopted in time for negotiations in this year’s upfront market, when U.S. media companies try to sell the bulk of their ad inventory for the coming season. But CBS’ move to make its data available could place pressure on rivals to do the same at a time when advertisers are increasingly interested in reaching consumers who have migrated to mobile devices and video streaming.

Already, GroupM, the large media-buying consortium owned by WPP, has expressed a desire to have a system in place that counts views of commercials that accompany content across multiple screens. The company is working on a methodology that would allow advertisers to count the number of impressions their commercials get, no matter if they appear on TV, alongside streaming video or other in new viewing frontiers. GroupM is working with the Video Advertising Bureau, the industry group that promotes content from big media outlets ranging from ABC to Viacom.

Nielsen’s total content ratings offer a partial solution to the growing problem of tracking viewership of TV shows when a good chunk of viewers watch them in ways that aren’t as easily monetized.  The measurement company on March 1 began allowing TV networks that have implemented technology that allows content to be measured on various platforms to release that data about their own shows to the public.

Nielsen had a larger roll-out in mind, but ran up against complaints from TV companies like NBCUniversal, which called into question some of the company’s tracking methodologies.  Nielsen executives believe the data is sound.

At issue is the fact that media companies must install software code across a wide variety of distribution points – mobile apps, video-on-demand interfaces, and more, to allow for measurement. But the process by which this has been done varies from TV network to TV network, according to various executives. Some media companies have placed a greater emphasis on specific methods of distribution or programming, but not others. This means they may have installed the code at one or more of these venues, but not in others. Using the data to analyze viewership between, say, MTV and FX, these executives suggested, would not create apples-to-apples comparisons.

CBS’ Poltrack said the company hoped its rivals would start to release similar data as well. The goal, he said, is to show advertisers, investors and consumers that the base of viewers watching TV programming is greater than might appear from a look at a more traditional group of couch potatoes.

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