Discovery Mulls Plans for New Ways of Measuring Viewers (EXCLUSIVE)

Discovery, the media company famous for “Shark Week” and “Deadliest Catch,” likes to take its viewers to interesting places around the world. Now it wants to bring them to a decidedly new frontier – one that may well not be measured entirely by Nielsen.

The company, led by CEO David Zaslav, has plans to “take some risks” and create different audience measures than might have been used in the past for some of its media properties, according to an executive familiar with the matter. This person said Discovery is considering “going to market with un-metered networks very, very soon.”

Discovery has already unveiled Food Network Kitchen, a subscription-based video serviced that features 25 weekly interactive cooking programs. And it has plans for a streaming-video service in overseas markets based on a $2 billion international rights deal it has struck with the PGA Tour. The golf-focused outlet will rely in part on content based on a pact it has with Tiger Woods.

In an era when streaming-video hubs like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video can flourish without traditional Nielsen ratings, this executive said, Discovery wants to create new opportunities for itself in similar fashion. “Now’s the time when you have to reinvent the measurement and currency of the future,” said this executive. “We are ready to leave some value on the table” in order to set up new systems of counting viewers, the executive added. “We are pushing it.”

Many U.S. media companies are trying new ways of counting audiences that encompass digital streaming. Nexstar Media, the nation’s largest owner of TV stations, said Monday it intended to back away from using traditional TV ratings as the basis for ad deals. Instead, Nexstar intends to use data from another measurement service, Comscore, to tabulate viewer “impressions” across different kinds of viewing behaviors.

Discovery’s vow to consider alternate forms of measurement comes as the media company is nearing the end of its current contract with Nielsen, according to people familiar with the matter.

The measurement giant faced a similar situation in 2018 when CBS threatened to drop Nielsen’s services as a contract neared the end of its term. The two sides had to navigate an impasse of about two weeks in length before coming to a new agreement. Like CBS, Discovery would be hard-pressed to abandon Nielsen, as millions of dollars of its ad revenue flow from agreements it strikes with Madison Avenue based on Nielsen audience ratings.

“Discovery Networks is a longstanding, trusted and valued client and we look forward to reaching a mutually-beneficial agreement with them in the near future,” Nielsen said in a statement in response to a query from Variety.

Nielsen has unveiled services in recent years that measure streaming activity on Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. There are limitations. The company’s SVOD Content Ratings measure only connected-TV viewing, not that done via mobile devices and desktops,  and cover only the U.S. — whereas both Netflix and Prime Video are available in many countries around the globe.

Discovery, however, has in recent years placed new emphasis on its overseas operations, which include Eurosport, a European sports network that has made much of the company’s ability to score international rights for some sports events that are popular in the U.S., including the Olympics

Nielsen has long been the standard of measurement in the media industry, and has worked in recent years to start counting viewers who watch TV in new ways. Nielsen has involved itself in new consumer-counting ventures, such as “Open A.P.,” a consortium made up of Fox Networks Group, Viacom, Turner, NBCUniversal and Univision that aims to help advertisers measure specific kinds of audiences, such as first-time car buyers or early adopters of technology. ESPN has worked with Nielsen to count viewers who watch its sporting events in bars and hotels – places that have previously been hard to quantify.


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