Why Nielsen’s Ambitious Total Audience Measurement Won’t Be Used During the Upfronts

Clients need more time to process new metrics

Since first announcing its Total Audience Measurement in October, Nielsen has maintained that the new tool, which will include viewers across all linear and digital platforms in a single metric, would be ready in time for networks and buyers to use during this year's upfronts.

But today, Nielsen officially put an end to those ambitious plans.

"Our clients have asked us to be sensitive to the upfront season," said Kelly Abcarian, svp, product leadership for Nielsen, at an upfront press breakfast today. "Many of them are still getting used to this data."

Abcarian stressed that while Nielsen has completed the framework for Total Audience Measurement, client education is taking longer than initially anticipated, as some are still working to "fully enable" their digital distribution paths and VOD assets. "They've asked for us to work with them to introduce this new data set into the marketplace," she said.

The likelihood that the new tool wouldn't be ready in time for the upfronts increased in March, when Steve Hasker, Nielsen's global president and COO, told Adweek the initial timetable for Total Audience's rollout—by the end of the first quarter—had been delayed to the second quarter of the year. "That process … I don't know that we underestimated it, but we can never spend enough time with our clients analyzing that data, helping them understand it and figure out what sort of decisions it's going to lead to," said Hasker, who at the time had still hoped the metric would be a factor at upfronts.

While clients currently have access to that data for their specific shows, Nielsen indicated today that the "syndicated product," in which everyone has access to everyone else's data, might not be complete until the third quarter.

In early findings, however, with one broadcast drama, the Total Audience metrics—which include ratings for digital, over-the-top VOD, set-top box VOD and DVR viewing after Day 8—gave the show almost a 25 percent lift over current C3 and C7 ratings.

VOD is the new king of audience lifts

In addition to the Total Audience rollout update, Nielsen shared new insights into viewing habits gleaned as part of its early look at the new data.

DVR usage is more front-loaded, as viewers in the first week tend to watch programming live or via DVR. Only about 7 percent of DVR playback occurs after the seventh day, as viewers shift to VOD.

"The method of viewing changes as the distance from the original airing grows," said Glenn Enoch, svp, audience insights at Nielsen. "The longer you go down the line, the more likely you are to go to a digital source or a VOD source to watch the program."

While live TV viewers average just 15 minutes per program—a figure that includes content only, not ads—VOD and other digital viewers average more than 30 minutes per program. "Live is a much more fluid thing," Enoch said, while on-demand viewers are actively choosing to engage with a program.

On-demand and digital audiences are more attractive to advertisers for another big reason: "The average age of a program, over time, will get younger and younger," said Enoch.

Nielsen looked at new episodes of nine cable and broadcast shows in different genres. The ratings grew as long as 18 weeks past the original air date. Those nine shows saw lifts ranging from 4 percent to 58 percent over the live-plus-7 numbers.

The genre also determines the amount of lift. Reality-competition series had only a 4 percent lift, while the serial drama jumped 13 percent. Both genres require viewing of one episode before the next one airs, which accounts for the minimal lifts after the first week. "You have motivation to watch this week because you need to watch to get to next week's show," said Enoch.

Meanwhile, those genres that aren't serialized enjoyed greater lifts after the first week. Episodic dramas (i.e., procedurals) averaged a 16 percent to 30 percent lift, sitcoms got a 21 percent to 32 percent lift, and adult animated comedies had a whopping 52 percent to 58 percent lift.

Enoch suggested that the big lifts in animated shows are due to the fact that those programs skew very young and can usually be watched in any order.

These stats don't include digital viewing, which just became available in February. And while some of the delayed viewing lifts from other platforms are significant, Enoch said, one thing hasn't changed: "By far, live TV is the No. 1 contributor to video consumption in this country."