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Cross-Platform Ratings Debate

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Nielsen's recently announced plans for a cross-platform ratings system has sparked debate about both the rollout's timing and exactly what online programs should be included.
 
The plan, revealed just over a week ago at a client meeting in New York, focused on Nielsen's creation of a single system for measuring audiences for TV and online long-form video programs by mid-2011.

"We came away from the meeting feeling that there's support for moving forward with the initiative," said Sara Erichson, president, media client services at Nielsen. She noted the firm has installed meters in 400 homes and that based on trials, 2011 is a realistic timetable.

But for some, that's just too long a wait. While people recognize the complicated nature of Nielsen's plan, they say the company should devote whatever resources are needed to ensure that the system is finished more quickly.

"I think the industry recognizes we needed this yesterday," said Alan Wurtzel, president, research and media development at NBC Universal. "If you can't measure it, you can't sell it."

Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting System, said he'd like to see Nielsen roll out a system by summer 2010, in time for cable's new programming season. "We as much as anybody need a multi-platform measurement system," he said, adding that the plan was a "step in the right direction. Everything up to now is siloed."

As for what it would measure, Nielsen has indicated that at the outset, at least, it will measure only a piece of the online viewing of TV shows, specifically those streams that contain the full load of commercials seen during the original broadcasts.
 
Some think that's too limiting given the fact that larger online distributors of TV content, such as Hulu, carry far fewer spots. In fact, most video streams carry less advertising than do TV broadcasts.

(Hulu execs didn't return calls for comment. Marc Graboff, chairman, NBCU Television, a partner in Hulu, told a gathering last week, "I know [Hulu's] looking at any number of things, like adding [more ads] or creating a subscription model with different windows," according to Reuters.)

"My question becomes, 'What are you really measuring?'" asked Wurtzel. "I don't know of any long-form video on the Internet that is literally the mirror image of what's on TV. You have to be able to measure the way it is out there and how people watch it."

Joe Abruzzo, evp, director of research at Havas' MPG, agreed. "That's a limitation," he said, while stressing that he supports the initiative because a cross-platform measurement is essential.

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