Nielsen is delaying the launch of its so-called Extended Screen Initiative until late April 2011, the ratings company confirmed in a notification to clients last week. The company also said that it would delay indefinitely the proposed measurements of versions of streamed feeds that are not identical in both program and commercial content to the broadcast and cable feeds originally transmitted.
Broadcast and cable networks have been pushing Nielsen to add an online measurement component to its national ratings system, NTI, in order to get credit for streamed viewing when negotiating prices with advertisers.
Some networks indicated last week that they aren’t thrilled with the delay. Others noted it could have an impact on this year’s TV ad sales marketplace.
Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting System, said, “Any delay is unfortunate, but any progress is better than where I am today.”
Wakshlag noted that Turner has deals in place with Comcast and other distributors that provide online access at no extra charge to “authenticated” subscribers. “They’re putting our content on line behind the authentication window, but we can’t get any credit for the viewing impressions because Nielsen doesn’t have their system in place and everyday it’s costing us money,” he said.
Lyle Schwartz, managing partner, research and marketplace analysis at WPP’s GroupM, said the delay could impact the marketplace to the extent that sellers factored in anticipated online viewing lift into their upfront ratings guarantees this year. “It might cause issues with audience delivery, which causes make goods that take out inventory from the marketplace, so supply and demand dynamics could change,” he said.
That issue aside, Schwartz added, a delay is better than inaccurate data, if that’s the choice. “I’d rather Nielsen get it right before coming out with it,” he said.
Alan Wurtzel, president, research and media development at NBC Universal, said he was more bothered by the delay in measuring alternative forms of online video content than he was by the timing of the launch. “That is just not the way a lot of us basically put the stuff out online,” he said of mirror image feeds, so the fact that Nielsen won’t measure anything else at least to start, “is a huge disappointment.”
The good news is there has been progress. Nielsen told its clients that it has deployed meters to measure TV program streams in 8,700 homes covering 25,000 people. The total national Nielsen TV ratings panel includes 20,000 homes and 60,000 people.
And the system, at least for testing purposes, is “working very well,” said Matt O’Grady, evp, media audience measurement at Nielsen. Despite the delays in going live with the service, he said, the fact that Nielsen has been able to build the system “is a great success. . . . It’s the only single-source data set of its kind in the marketplace.”
O’Grady said clients would begin to get reports estimating the incremental online viewing to programs in January. The system officially kicks off April 25 (with data available back to March 14).
What’s unclear at this point is how many networks will participate and how much of their programming they’ll be willing to provide in the proper format to be counted by the new system. O’Grady acknowledged that so far “a small number of programmers” are supplying significant amounts of their content. Turner, which is eager to get under way, is formatting most of its original and highly viewed shows, said Wakshlag.
Other networks are contributing far fewer shows at least to start, while still others continue to evaluate whether to get involved at all as they weigh the added formatting costs against what they believe will be the long-term return.
For now, CBS is likely to format just a couple of shows this season, said a source at the network. For CBS, the source said, the issue is engineering resources and the fact that formatting the programs in the way Nielsen requires for the Extended Screen service takes a lot of extra time.
Wurtzel at NBC said the network has similar issues, but he indicated the network would provide a mirror image feed of the NBC Nightly News and some Telemundo programs at the start.
At least for now, the CW is not participating at all, even though it is the only network this season actually selling streamed versions of its telecasts with ad loads that are the same as those for its broadcast transmissions.
The network declined to comment on Nielsen’s delay, but a source stressed it would have no impact on the net’s TV/online ad sales strategy. The network has devised a metric that combines DoubleClick data to count total viewers and Nielsen Video Census for demographic estimates.
Fox is still considering which shows to supply Nielsen for the test phase of the service, said Melva Benoit, svp, consumer insight and audience research at the network. Ideally, she’d like to test them all, to better understand how viewers are consuming the shows on different platforms. Resources and costs, however, are issues. “Every consumer has a media ecosystem,” she said, and the Extended Screen Initiative will help programmers determine if they’re “serving every consumer in the right places with the right content. It’s hard to do that when the metrics are so far apart.”
Meanwhile, O’Grady said the delay was mostly about synching up the new system with the reporting and transaction processes used by Nielsen’s clients. “The meters are in place and they can detect the codes” that identify specific shows, he said. “But we have work to do to bring it through the reporting systems,” he added, which is taking longer than anticipated.
Nielsen is committed to expanding the service’s flexibility down the road so that other streaming formats can be reported by the single-source offering, O’Grady said. “We’re working on other scenarios now,” he added. “This is a fast-moving, highly complex and engineering-driven process. It’s evolving.”