Cross-Platform Ratings Debate

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.

“I’d rather get credit for some of it than none of it,” countered Wakshlag. Even this small step, he noted, would count more viewers than networks would get credit for in the C3 ratings and, therefore, it’s a help. The new system, he added, will spur more programmers to put “higher-quality” content online, probably adding more spots given that they’ll have a metric to sell ads against.

Wakshlag believes there is evidence — indicated by VOD trials that Turner has conducted with cable operators — that at least some viewers will tolerate more ads for shows they really like. In a test with Cox, he said, “we got 8 percent to 10 percent lifts in our C3 ratings for fresh VOD programs” where viewers weren’t able to fast-forward through the spots.

Still, others said it remains to be seen whether viewers accept bigger ad pods in shows streamed on the Internet.

John Spiropoulos, svp, director of marketplace analytics at Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest USA, said it could depend on what extent online vendors will put “linear feeds on their sites.” He believes many will, especially as media owners generally redouble efforts to get compensated in one form or another for their digital content.

“Eventually, they’ll move to some kind of choice model that has a linear feed option-meaning a lot of ads-as well as subscription options” where viewers could pay a fee to avoid ads altogether, he said.
 
To start, the new cross-platform system would not measure online viewing in the workplace, where many corporations object to having codes put on computers for security reasons. (They also don’t want to encourage online viewing during working hours.)

“That’s part of the reason that CIMM was created,” said Wurtzel, referring to the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, formed two months ago. He said the group, including NBCU, Viacom and a host of other media, agency and marketing companies, wants to develop solutions for workplace measurement issues, among other concerns.
 
Nielsen does as well, and is considering solutions such as portable pendants that might be worn by users as they watch online videos.

Adweek is a unit of the Nielsen Co.

See also: “The Ad Skip Blip”