ESPN Will Count Linear, Streaming Audiences as One

As ESPN viewers watch the kickoff to next week’s “Monday Night Football” game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals, ESPN executives will be attempting a pivotal play all their own.

The Disney-controlled sports-media outlet will next week cease reporting separate live viewership figures for linear TV and streaming, and instead report them as a single number. Monday’s broadcast day will be the first on which ESPN will offer a live “total audience” number that reflects both traditional TV watching as well as viewing via streaming services, executives said Friday. ESPN and Nielsen, the media-measurement firm upon whose data the industry relies, will add to that number over the next few weeks, adding in viewing done on mobile screens as well as viewing done via “out of home” sources, like TVs in bars and hotels.

Viewers “consume our content on a wide variety of screens,  a wide variety of technologies,” said Ed Erhardt, president of global sales and marketing for ESPN, during a conference call.  The company has been in the marketplace since May pitching the new system to advertisers, and Erhardt said all of ESPN’s advertisers have agreed to utilize the linear-plus-streaming figures and “more than 50%” have agreed to utilize viewing from “out of home” sources. “We expect more as they see the data and see the numbers,” Erhardt said. “We feel pretty good about the progress we have made.”

ESPN expects the Nielsen-verified viewership of live streaming and mobile to add as much as 5% to 7% in younger audiences, said Dave Coletti, vice president of media intelligence at ESPN. “When you add in out of home, it tends to amplify the audience at the younger end” as well, he said.

The measurement shift applies to ESPN and ESPN2 programming, executives said. The “ad load” on linear broadcast and digital streams will be the same.

The switch will change the way ESPN reports viewership. Indeed, a final tabulation may not be available until as much as three weeks after a program airs, executives said. But the same is true of other Nielsen measures that help shape transactions. While many consumers and executives are focused on program ratings, the fact is that the industry now does business on “commercial ratings” that take into account the average viewership of commercial breaks up to as many as three or seven days after a show airs.

 

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