The data company, whose tabulation of TV audiences forms the bedrock of negotiations for billons of dollars of advertising each year, intends to add viewership data from DirecTV and Dish set-top boxes and Vizio smart TV’s into its national currency – a maneuver that could play a significant part in helping the industry track millions of views of streaming-video content and the commercials that show up along them them — for which top media executives have been calling for years.
“I would say our Holy Grail for what we are working toward is creating a currency that’s more reliable across TV, connected TV and digital devices,” says Scott N. Brown, general manager for audience measurement at Nielsen, in an interview. “This is a real important first step in that direction.”
Nielsen plans to start sharing preview data in the first half of 2021, and expects it to be able to help advertisers measure new kinds of “addressable” ads that can be aimed at specific audience niches and placed over the ads in a network’s live broadcast. If the company is able to put its plan into effect, it would shake up its current measurement system, which largely depends on different streams of a program across linear and on-demand to run with the same load of commercials. Taking on addressable ads, which are aimed at smaller audience niches and even individual homes, would mean Nielsen would no longer have to adhere to that rule in order to measure effectiveness, and could even hone in on the performance of individual ad spots.
The system, if embraced by companies like ViacomCBS, NBCUniversal, Fox Corp., Walt Disney, Discovery and WarnerMedia, would add what many media and advertising honchos believe is an important audience measure to a system that has not been upgraded since 2007. That’s the year when the nation’s TV networks and media buying agencies devised a new measurement system that was based not on the audiences Nielsen measures for individual programs, but for the commercial breaks that interrupt them. The accounting was created for a world in which consumers were using digital-video recorders to skip past the ads.
More than a decade later, that problem seems relatively quaint. In 2020, consumers don’t need to record their favorite programs; they can simply stream them on demand with the use of a broadband interface and any kind of screen, no matter whether it belongs to a TV set or a mobile device.
Nielsen estimates that 77% of U.S. homes have at least one enabled connected device and that streaming accounts for 25% of TV usage in those homes. Meanwhile, the market-research firm eMarketer projects that spending on addressable TV advertising – ads that can be placed in connected-TV streams and live broadcast feeds depending on the consumers data advertisers have on users – will total $3.6 billion by 2022, a jump of 75% from August 2020. To be sure, that total is a drop in the bucket of the total amount of money spent on overall TV advertising often estimated at around $70 billion, but it represents a bag of money no longer being placed in support of traditional TV.
“We will be able to show the same metric for the connected TV as we do for a live footprint,” says Brown.
Nielsen has worked steadily in recent years to track new kinds of consumer viewing enabled by the latest technology. As the fall TV season launched this year, Nielsen began offering its measurement of so-called “out of home” audiences — people who watch TV while in offices, hotels. bars and on the go — to its national ratings. That move is expected to add views to many sports and news broadcasts that previously were not being credited.
At least one media company confirmed it was in discussions with Nielsen about making use of the new technology. NBCUniversal is interested in learning a out what Nielsen can do, according to a spokesperson, given the company’s dominance in measuring media usage. Other media companies have been talking to Nielsen as well, and some caution that acceptance of the new capabilities could take some time to put in place.
If the creation of the measure known as “commercial ratings” in 2007 is any indication, the process will likely take months. Nielsen faced all kinds of hand-wringing and pushback over the new measure, and the former Viacom’s MTV Networks unit delayed implementation of it for some time after others embraced it. Still, the measure, also known as “C3” because it took into account viewership of commercials three days after they originally aired, went into effect after NBCU and WPP’s large GroupM signed a large “upfront” ad deal in 2007.
The industry may not be able to wait as long in this go-round. Viewers’ interest in streaming has only increased during the months of the coronavirus pandemic. This year has already seen the launch of WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCU’s Peacock. Soon, consumers will be able to access ViacomCBS’ Paramount Plus and a new streaming-video offering from Discovery. They will join broadband services already operated by Netflix. Amazon and Walt Disney, which operates Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and Hulu.