Gotta Catch ‘Em All: TV Metrics for the New Media Landscape

By Karen Fratti 

This is a guest post by Frank Sinton, the CEO of Beachfront Media, a video supply platform that empowers publishers with holistic video distribution and video SSP technology stack.  Previously, he worked for Sony Pictures Entertainment as Executive Director of Architecture. Beachfront’s video-first, mobile-first approach enables you to grow your video business towards the future of mobile video.

tvAs the TV industry shows advertisers its newest and shiniest offerings during upfronts season, one big question hovers over all the parties and presentations and palaver: how many people are actually watching the shows?

That question has lots of sub-parts, like where are they watching, and when are they watching, and on what distribution platform? But the broader question boils down, for TV executives, to a belief that as video viewing mutates in a million ways, their shows aren’t getting enough credit for all the people watching.

That translates, of course, into ad dollars, at least under traditional TV economics, though less so in this changing universe. Will the new numbers mean advertisers should pay for more eyeballs if their ad doesn’t run with the show when it’s viewed on iTunes or Hulu or a DVR or an app? Or does it just mean that show creators have a better argument against cancellation?

Regardless, Nielsen’s long-in-development Total Audience Measurement process is mostly ready for primetime, though at the networks’ request, the results won’t be part of this upfronts. In part, that’s because the nets need more time to work through the implications of the new measurements.

One study of the new Nielsen measurement suggests all the new platforms would add around 25 percent to the average show’s viewership, in particular because of VOD watching. Equally of interest to networks, that off-broadcast viewing receives more than double the time of engagement compared to the show’s initial broadcast.

Also of note: the average age of a show’s audience gets younger over time, as Millennials and Gen Z viewers tap mobile and digital sources to catch up to a show in their own time. This is all good news for advertisers trying to reach audiences that have proven difficult to access on traditional platforms.

Some findings are less surprising, like how much a show’s genre matters in terms of its off-broadcast viewership boost. Reality competitions, which like sports thrive with immediacy, get only a small lift in subsequent viewing (4 percent), while serialized drama sees a jump of 13 percent, more than three times higher, as fans catch up on story lines.

The delayed viewing numbers are even higher for comedies whose plotlines are self-contained with each episode. Basically, it’s snackable light viewing that can be watched whenever.

Meanwhile, ESPN and Fox Sports say Nielsen is nearly ready to measure all the views their sports programming gets in bars, restaurants and similar out-of-home venues.

The additional views could be significant for the companies, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of audience members for a given broadcast, and would come at a time when pricey sports programming faces many challenges to its former primacy.

The new measurements here are heartening for networks too, capturing audiences that are a bit younger, more female and more “multicultural,” all demographics that advertisers would like to reach.

All this is good news for traditional TV creators. Less clear is whether new numbers will reflect new ways to commission, create, structure and sell shows. The new distribution platforms require more than new ways of measuring old ways of making shows. They require new thinking, and new tools.

Not everyone in the industry is happy. One key Viacom executive wants improved cross-platform metrics, and said the industry needs to collaborate on improving them.

And there are plenty of disputes blowing up already over whether online views are equal to TV ratings. As the Wall Street Journal just pointed out, networks are pushing back at MCNs who claimed during NewFronts events that their millions of views on given shows outstrip the millions that Nielsen estimates are watching traditional TV.

Some of these comparisons are apples-to-oranges issues, made using methodologies that one side or the other can cry foul about. That’s why we need to continue developing sturdier metrics based on better methodologies, so we can more fully understand what our audience is doing, wherever they’re finding the content and advertising that we’re providing.

So the real question is less about traditional TV capturing all the views it believes it has earned, and more about moving traditional TV more fully into this new world where audiences, and ad revenues, can come from many different places, over many different times. When that is fully measured, we’ll really have something.