Nov 16, 2015

Totaling It Up. Will Nielsen Have An Audience For TAM, Or Is It Too Little Too Late?

Co-written with Jesse Redniss. Originally published at on November 9, 2015.

Nielsen finally revealed details and a launch date for its OTT measurement system, dubbed “Total Audience Measurement” and the industry may never be the same. We’re (mostly) impressed with what they’re trying to accomplish and believe that it will kickstart TV Everywhere, so that 2016 will be the year we finally see the radical changes everyone has been waiting for.

Total Audience Measurement: What We Like

Ad Views versus Program Views: Total Audience Measurement (TAM) addresses the issue that in the brave new world of TV viewing, ads and shows need to be measured separately. That’s because someone watching the digital broadcast or VOD broadcast of a show may not see the same commercial load as someone watching the linear feed. Nielsen’s plan is to create two different metrics, one that will allow networks to know how many total viewers a particular show has, and one that allows advertisers to know how many people actually saw an ad.

Just About Every Device: TAM will be able to count views on just about every streaming and mobile device out there: PCs, mobile devices, tablets, VOD and streaming devices like Xbox, Apple TV and Roku. A few niche devices like the Apple Watch won’t be counted, but their low usage rates would not effect ratings anyway.

Bigger Panels: Nielsen is doubling the size of their panels from 20,000 households to 40,000. While we’d still like to see a measurement system that counts every single view, we also realize that no one is going to let the MVPDs (who are the only ones who have that capability) have that kind of power. Given the complex nature of TV rights and negotiations, responsibility for ratings are always going to fall to an impartial third party.

Moving Beyond C3 and C7: Nielsen has the ability to measure way, way beyond the C7 window. The reason they don’t is that the current rules, which date back to 2006, do not allow them to. To remedy this, Nielsen is working with the major ad buying agencies and networks to change those rules, something they say they’re not getting much pushback on. So we should soon be seeing accurate ratings many days out, which will allow for a more realistic picture of current viewing habits.

Moving beyond C7 also acknowledges the rapid growth of ad-supported VOD, which means that views 21 or even 91 days out are as likely to be on VOD as they are on DVR. Those numbers are going to prove very useful to networks when making programming decisions, as they’ll be able to gauge which shows have developed bigger audiences in the off-season — a powerful piece of data since audiences who discover shows via bingeing tend to be far more evangelical and passionate than those who discover the shows via linear.

Measurement For Streaming Services: Sort of. While YouTube and AOL will be fully measured, Netflix and Amazon don’t want Nielsen poking under the hood. But it seems that several of the major studios want to know how their shows are doing on those streaming sites and are supplying Nielsen with audio files so they can find out. We wish Hastings and Bezos would stop being so secretive — we get that they don’t rely on ad revenue, but releasing ratings numbers would allow everyone to know just how popular their new shows are and with whom, data that can influence programming decisions on ad-supported networks too.

What We Don’t Like

Still No Social. As we pointed out last year, the key measurement missing from TV ratings systems is social. While Nielsen does measure Twitter, it’s an open secret that Twitter ratings are reflective of what’s popular with Twitter’s unique audience clusters and not with the viewing population at large. You can see this by looking at the social TV ratings from companies like Shareablee, where Instagram sometimes outranks Facebook, and both leave Twitter in the dust, the latter often accounting for well under 10% of audience interactions.

Adding social ratings, especially social ratings that take context into account, will give a clearer picture of what shows, ads, actors and genres are resonating with viewers. As more and more marketers move toward smarter insights like “emotional resonance” and “advanced sentiment analysis” to derive true meaning behind flat metrics. It will also give a clearer idea of what else those viewers like (Psychographic insights) allowing networks and advertisers to see patterns between the shows and the show’s audiences. In addition, the size of the social audience, Facebook in particular, provides census-level data, which can serve as a check on Nielsen’s panel data.

Or Is There? We keep hearing rumblings about Nielsen adding anonymized Facebook data to the overall Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings data set. When you break down the Nielsen SDK demo process, it seems that Nielsen will be bumping up its data to Facebook anyway in order to attach demo and psychographic info. So, while we can only assume that Nielsen’s next step, after TAM is released, will be to go to Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat (and maybe even Tumblr) and start incorporating their numbers into the social rating, the question remains as to how they’ll do it in a way that’s “fair & balanced” to their long time partner Twitter? If the social TV ratings from companies like Shareablee, which consistently show Twitter responsible for less than 10% of the social TV traffic for most hit shows are any indication, it’s going to be rough roads ahead for Twitter’s relevance here.

Branded Content and Brand Funded Content

As consumers continue to find ways to avoid interruptive advertising, brands are taking a #CreatedWith approach to ad integration, looking to place their messages within the content of the show. As these executions become more popular, Nielsen will need to start measuring their effectiveness as well. This is particularly important if these executions are going to become part of the programmatic buying systems that are all the rage today. Without a way to measure #CreatedWith and other branded integrations, TAM is going to fall short. It’s our opinion this should be the next challenge Nielsen tackles.

What Happens Next

TV Everywhere Explodes. This is the real benefit to TAM. Because once the networks know that all those non-linear views will be counted by a universally accepted measurement system, their objections to TV Everywhere melt away.

Until now, the networks have been (rightly) worried that views on tablets and VOD and streaming devices equaled money down the drain, as those viewers meant lower ratings and thus less ad revenue. Hence all the restrictions on TV Everywhere apps. But now that everything’s being counted, the networks are more than happy to let you watch whenever, wherever and however you want — the more the merrier. They know that when people have more ways to watch TV, they actually do wind up watching more TV. Ratings go up along with ad revenue, and everyone is happy.

The MVPDs, who provide both pay-TV and broadband service will also be more than happy to have you watch TV via an online connection, since the more bandwidth you use, the more money they make. That’s because MVPDs make their real money on broadband — pay TV provides very thin margins.

That means the MVPDs will be rolling out new and improved versions of their TV Everywhere apps, which will be freed from the restrictions they’ve had until now. So you’ll be able to tap into their VOD libraries, watch whatever you want when you’re away from home, pause and rewind, and otherwise enjoy a superior TV experience.

Audience Parting

As OTT viewing explodes (along with the ability to measure it), we will see much more of what we call “Audience Parting” — advertisers buying specific audiences rather than specific day parts. Time shifting will play a huge part in this as well, since buying prime time shows (or shows that originally ran in prime time) is no longer a guarantee of anything — early research shows that there are significant differences in the audiences who watch TV live, the audiences who watch 3–7 days out and the audiences who watch 3–7 weeks out. By buying specific audiences, advertisers will be able to replicate the powerful targeting capabilities currently available online, without sacrificing their ability to reach mass audiences. It may be more work for the networks ad sales teams, but should result in higher fees for the more targeted audience. If Nielsen’s TAM works as expected, audience parting should become the rule, rather than the exception.

A Data Explosion

While Nielsen may begin collecting additional data from all the OTT sites they’ll be monitoring, they’re far from alone. The networks have been busy collecting first-party data on their viewers via systems like Viacom Vantage, NBCUx and Turner Data Cloud and using that to power new programmatic style ad buying programs. These systems will serve to keep Nielsen on its toes as the first party data the networks collect is deeper and less reliant on panels. Nielsen will need to continually innovate to keep pace with TV’s new digital-centric reality, particular when it comes to data. Advertisers will be the real winners however this shakes out, since the more data they have (regardless of its source) the better decisions they’ll be able to make.

Maybe The Future Isn’t About Apps, Tim.

As much as we want to love everything Apple does, the problem with an app-based future, is there’s no program guide, no central organizing system that keeps track of your shows and where they are.
Siri might someday fulfill that role, but for now, for anyone who watches more than just a few hours of TV a week, the MVPD offerings, which combine in-home set top box delivery with full TV Everywhere service for hundreds of channels, will be the way to go, providing access to just about anything you’d want to watch (including short form content from YouTube and others) along with an easy way to find and organize it all. Throw in a single bill for all your TV and broadband needs, and it’s a hard deal to turn down. Comcast has done a stellar job of driving this paradigm to reality.

The Change Is Now.

As all TV begins to feel like Netflix, we’ll be seeing even more changes in the way we watch. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for and with the launch of a universally accepted measurement system, there’s nothing to hold it back.

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