Is This the Long-Awaited Answer to Measuring Video Viewers Everywhere They’re Watching?

Handicapping the cross-platform players

Call it the time-shifted, made-for-tablets Winter Olympics. When Americans took in the jumps, spills and crashes from Sochi in February, they made Olympic history of their own. Viewing on mobile apps shot up a staggering 387 percent versus the Vancouver Games four years prior, according to internal NBCUniversal data, while on-demand TV viewing more than tripled.

And yet, frustratingly for NBCUniversal, which carried the Olympics, that meteoric growth in the mobile audience wasn’t reflected in the TV ratings against which all guarantees are made. Per Nielsen, viewing on linear TV dropped 12 percent when compared to the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The Sochi Olympics are only the latest example of the complex challenges measurement providers face when trying to keep up with the evolving dynamics of viewing behavior. “We are a third-world country when it comes to media measurement,” says Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development at NBCU. “We are woefully behind in virtually every kind of measurement and nowhere near where we need to be in cross-platform measurement.”

The cracks are starting to show in the current system, which tracks consumption based on the device being used and does not reflect the total number of unique viewers a program delivers on each platform, known as unduplicated reach. “What the industry needs is the ability to continuously monitor the migration of consumption across platforms and understand the value of one platform versus another,” says Lyle Schwartz, managing partner and director of research and marketplace analysis at GroupM Worldwide.

Though the holy grail of accurately measuring audiences across screens with one common metric remains elusive, a pair of new initiatives suggests there finally may be light at the end of the cross-platform tunnel. Indeed, the topic came up multiple times on stage at last week’s 4A’s conference.

In a long-awaited development, Nielsen intends to add viewing on mobile devices to its C3 TV ratings stream in the fall. (The currency against which nearly all guarantees are made, C3 blends average live commercial ratings with three days of time-shifted viewing.) In a bid to more accurately capture every eyeball, Nielsen is supplying software for broadcasters and Web video publishers to embed into their video players and apps that will tally the number of views for their programs.

Demographic data from Facebook and Experian will be layered in to produce census-style mobile video measurement. If the mobile version of the program carries the same ad load as the original telecast and is viewed within three days of broadcast, it gets added to the C3 ratings. If not, it updates Nielsen’s digital ratings. Viewing on PCs and laptops won’t be measured this way until sometime next year.

Of course, if the networks have their say, the C3 currency will be phased out in time for the 2014-15 upfront, which would further complicate the measurement landscape. “We already have a couple of C7 deals operating right now,” CBS Corp. president and CEO Les Moonves said earlier this month. And with a new dynamic ad insertion scheme in place, the network will be able to extend the value of its VOD offerings well past seven days. “The ideal world is, every eyeball we get paid for in two different ways. It’s a beautiful country,” Moonves joked.

Returning to developments that are locked in for the fall, the Nielsen enhancement is a mashup of representative panel measurement and census counting. “Between both sets of numbers, we’ll create that unduplicated reach so advertisers can get a holistic view of their reach across platforms,” says Nielsen evp of global product leadership Megan Clarken. “We’re opening up the marketplace for broadcasters to be able to monetize their assets in ways they haven’t been able to do before.”

Meanwhile, comScore has ambitious plans of its own to crack the cross-platform code. For the past year, the digital measurement provider has been working with ESPN and the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM) to test a system that tracks video, audio and text across five platforms: TV, radio, computers, smartphones and tablets. Intended more as a media-planning tool than a new ratings currency, the experimental product uses a hybrid methodology that combines big data with panel measurement from four independent but overlapping data sets. One panel tracks radio and TV, another measures computers and TV, and still another keeps tabs on smartphones, tablets and computers. A fourth, much smaller calibration panel monitors consumption on all five screens, acting as a checkpoint to ensure the combined sample falls in line with national standards.

ComScore’s Project Blueprint is being closely watched by a group of 10 participating networks, including ESPN, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, as well as three agency holding companies. ComScore says it will determine the launch date for a syndicated service based on successful completion of the tests this fall.

Subscribers would have weekly, even daily, data to evaluate the cross-media performance of their campaigns and make tweaks along the way. “All signs are it’s a needed product, especially for advertisers and agencies,” says comScore vp, television and cross-media service Joan FitzGerald. “They don’t have very good data to drive their decisions about shifting dollars across different platforms.”

But that’s not stopping marketers from chasing consumers across screens. Ad spending attributed to multiscreen campaigns is expected to mushroom from 20 percent of budgets to 50 percent in the next three years, according to Nielsen and the Association of National Advertisers.

The absence of cross-screen measurement has gone from mere irritant to significant industry shortcoming, network research execs say. By Wurtzel’s back-of-the-envelope calculation, NBCU is being shortchanged by as much as 0.3 of a rating point in the 18-49 demo from viewing that falls outside Nielsen’s current ecosystem. That, he adds, amounts to an ad-dollar shortfall in the nine-figure range, which the network monetizes using a patch quilt of metrics from different providers.

Buyers say getting to the measurement promised land would affect how they plan and buy, eliminate guesswork, and make campaigns more effective and efficient.

“The more precise measurement we have, the less waste in our media buying, and that’s incredibly important to us,” says David Campanelli, svp, director of national TV at Horizon Media.

Campanelli and other agency execs say it would simplify the buying and selling process, enabling one-stop shopping and a seamless transaction across screens and giving them a better chance of not missing viewers they want to reach in a given time period.

For example, an advertiser could buy ABC’s Modern Family and travel with the show during the three-day currency window from linear TV to video-on-demand to websites like Hulu and to streaming apps.

“I want to be able to buy the show from the network and live wherever the content of that show travels, particularly through the C3 window,” Campanelli says. Under the current system, an advertiser who wants to reach the show’s entire audience has to deal with multiple sellers, each offering a different portion of viewers.

A clearer understanding of the value each platform delivers would help buyers get a bigger bang from their media dollar and enable sellers to better value their ad inventory, stakeholders say. “That would allow the industry to capture more of its true value and enable higher analytics to help people use all the media more effectively and measure the impact more completely,” says CBS chief research officer David Poltrack.

Advertisers could, for example, experiment with different allocation models to determine how effectively they reach their intended target. Ad executions could be timed more precisely. “It would open up tremendous opportunity for good evaluation of where the money can best be spent,” GroupM’s Schwartz says.

The ability to feed cross-platform data into media-mix models will improve the accuracy of those ad-effectiveness tools, which are used to allocate billions of dollars in ad spending, research executives say. The influence is also likely to extend to content creation. CIMM managing director Jane Clarke says multiscreen measurement will have “a really big impact” on decisions media companies make about investing in new content and how to monetize it.

Media companies say a detailed picture of how consumers move from platform to platform would help them put together smarter ad proposals for their clients.

ESPN svp of global research and analytics Artie Bulgrin, an early Blueprint proponent, envisions a day when ESPN and other networks can project reach and frequency of ad exposure for individual screens in a campaign proposal. “Having this type of tool is critical for advising clients on how to use ESPN across platforms and how to get the best return on their investments,” he says. The sports giant plans to use Blueprint extensively this summer to track exposure to the 2014 FIFA World Cup before applying the data to the upcoming season of Monday Night Football.

Pivotal Research Group senior analyst Brian Wieser sees Blueprint as a potential media planning complement to Nielsen ratings, not a replacement. “There isn’t a credible threat from comScore,” he says. “Show me the TV buyer that says they’re going to go without their Nielsen data that’s not in the middle of a negotiation with Nielsen. The reality is they can’t execute without it.”

While a common currency would make it easier to move ad dollars across venues, some worry it could dilute what makes each medium unique. The challenge isn’t just to measure the totality of exposure but to better grasp the difference in impact between an ad on TV, a mobile device and a computer. “We don’t want to build a system that incorrectly homogenizes measurement across media channels that actually function and communicate quite differently,” Poltrack says.

Buyers suggest that while comScore’s Project Blueprint and Nielsen’s plans to include mobile viewing in its TV ratings are steps in the right direction, much work remains. Measurement providers need samples large enough to capture the smaller audiences that have splintered across platforms. And once a more unified measurement is available, media sales forces will need to be retrained on how to sell based on that new measurement.

Despite an explosion of new devices and the vast troves of user data they produce, advertising’s mission of putting the right message in front of the right consumer at the right time remains the same as it’s always been. Says Schwartz: “We’re still doing that today. We’re just doing it with many more options and much more information than we ever had before.” 


The Incumbent The Challenger

is adding mobile viewing to its TV ratings service.


(with data licensed from Nielsen Audio in collaboration with the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement) is conducting phase 2 of proof-of-concept trials for Project Blueprint.


Census-style panel matched with demographic data from Facebook to produce mobile viewing estimates, calibrated against Nielsen's representative National People Meter panel; eligible C3 viewing is credited to Nielsen TV ratings, non-eligible viewing credits Nielsen digital ratings.


Unified measurement across five screens using combinations of “single-source” measurement to calibrate duplication; uses set-top box data for TV viewing combined with demographics from Nielsen Audio’s PPM panel and census-based methods to track online and mobile video viewing, combined with demographics from comScore’s panel.

Sample Size

Nielsen’s National People Meter panel of 22,000 homes (55,000 people) plus 180 million Facebook users in the U.S.

Sample Size

ComScore’s panel of 1 million; 5 million set-top boxes; Nielsen Audio’s 70,000 PPM panel.

Anticipated Launch Date

Q3 for mobile viewing credited to TV ratings, Q4 for mobile viewing credited to Nielsen Digital Ratings.

Anticipated Launch Date

Phase 2 pilot test to be completed in Q3; syndicated service launch TBA.

Industry Buy-In

Positive response from clients and investors; Nielsen is seeking Media Rating Council accreditation.

Industry Buy-In

10 media companies and three agency groups are participating in second phase of pilot test.

Other Providers  
USA Touchpoints

Planning tool adds a layer of consumption context, entails panelists filling out an electronic diary of their media usage, including location, activities, social setting and mood.


Ad-impact tool matches set-top box TV and comScore digital media metrics with auto and CPG purchase data.


Ad-effectiveness tool links TV viewing to product purchase data.


Ad-effectiveness tool connects national TV-viewing data with consumer transactions and automobile registrations.