Nielsen Set to Release Streaming Data For New Use in TV’s Measurement Wars (EXCLUSIVE)

Nielsen Ratings Illustration Placeholder
Cheyne Gateley for Variety

As Nielsen faces increasing competition to measure TV activity, it’s trying to make more of the data advertisers say they want more readily available.

The media measurement giant is expected as soon as Wednesday to announce it will issue streaming data from connected TV sets, according to two people familiar with the matter. The information, Nielsen is expected to tell clients, will give advertisers, media buyers and media companies more information in their efforts to understand how audiences are behaving across a range of different screens. The new release comes just days after Nielsen sent a letter to clients telling them it intends to make so-called “big data,” that includes more granular measurement of TV audiences, available alongside its traditional measures of total linear viewership by age and gender. And it also comes as Nielsen is wrangling with TV networks over which industry yardstick will be paramount in the coming upfront ad-sales marketplace.

A Nielsen release slated to be issued as soon as tomorrow tells clients that “Only Nielsen” can connect data in a manner that gives Madison Avenue a full view of audiences. Nielsen representatives were not able to offer immediate comment. On Wednesday, the company released a statement noting that “streaming data from the TV glass now available directly in our media planning tool” will help clients “more easily reach advanced audiences and navigate the fast changing landscape with the confidence that they’re spending every dollar as effectively as possible.”

Nielsen is letting out a torrent of new data as it faces an intensifying battle. Frustrated by Nielsen’s ability to pivot quickly to encompass measurement of TV audiences migrating to new behaviors thanks to broadband, the TV networks have moved rapidly to establish tie-ups with a range of audience-measurement rivals. NBCUniversal has been utilizing data from iSpot.TV and making it available as frequently as a network might release Nielsen data about audiences, and has struck a deal with the large Publicis Media buying operation to test the results. WarnerMedia has tapped Comscore, iSpot.TV and VideoAmp to help build a new suite of technologies that will help count viewers across linear, digital and connected television. Paramount Global, the former ViacomCBS, has struck a pact with Dentsu, meanwhile, to test audience data from VideoAmp.

Nielsen, which has long been the de facto arbiter of TV audiences, has found its position challenged in recent months. Nielsen and the nation’s TV networks have been at odds, with the media companies charging that Nielsen has not been able to count audiences properly amid the coronavirus pandemic and a large-scale shift of viewers from linear TV-watching to streaming on demand. Accreditation for Nielsen’s national and local ratings was suspended by the Media Rating Council, an industry body that works to hold audience measurement to a common standard, in September, opening the door for rivals to offer their services even as Nielsen data continues to be used.

In a letter issued in September, Nielsen CEO David Kenny said the company understands “that we need to move faster in advancing our measurement because the audience itself is moving faster.” Nielsen is focused on launching a new system it calls NielsenOne that would examine unduplicated viewership across traditional TV and digital platforms that it believes will be ready by 2024.

To be sure, Nielsen has issued data about streaming activity in the past. It launched its “Streaming Platform Ratings” in 2021 and has since June released “The Gauge,” a look at streaming consumption of venues including Disney Plus, Hulu and Netflix. Eight of the company’s nine national media clients license that information. The new data, issued via its Nielsen Media Impact, will serve as a tool for media planners, who can examine the data for information about the reach their clients might get by utilizing streaming venues.

The company, which often moves in a methodical manner, is working more rapidly than it has in the past, and the new information it is releasing is likely meant to keep TV networks and advertisers poring over its data as the company works toward launching its new system. Already, Interpublic Group and Disney Co. are working with Nielsen, along with eight other companies, to get feedback on NielsenOne and its implementation.

But TV executives say they aren’t knocked out by some of the data set for release, claiming it puts an onus on the networks to make sense of it for advertisers and may add some confusion to the marketplace. They also believe the new streaming data set for release is not as reliable as others who offer similar technology. In a statement provided last week, Nielsen said its “big data” effort represented “an important step” and would not slow progress to launch NielsenOne, where advertisers and publishers will be able to transact using a single metric that is trusted, independent and standardized across the industry. “We are working side-by-side with our clients on this road to the single cross-platform measurement solution,” Nielsen said.