News Center > Thought Leadership

Separating Fact from Fiction

5 minute read | March 2016
Megan Clarken
Megan Clarken, president of product leadership, Nielsen

The last two years have been a time of significant innovation and progress at Nielsen. At the end of 2015, we put the final pieces of our Total Audience framework in place, so we are now able to measure video wherever it is viewed. Today, we are working with clients to integrate the different pieces of Total Audience.

The initial data has exceeded our expectations. But while the progress we have made is clear to a wide range of researchers and media executives, there are still those who think that the “TV ratings,” otherwise known as “C3/C7,” are the entirety of what Nielsen measures. That has led to the persistence of a number of fictions about Nielsen and what we do. We’d like to set the record straight by putting those fictions side by side with today’s reality.

Fiction No. 1: Nielsen only measures three or seven days of TV viewing.

Reality: This is a definition of the commercial ratings, not the far larger universe Nielsen measures.

Nielsen measures 35 days of time-shifted viewing.

We measure TV for seven days in order to capture the average audience for commercials reflected in the “live,” “C3” and “C7” ratings. The ratings are based on eligibility rules defined by the industry in May 2007, which, at the time, reflected the bulk of consumers’ viewing of ad units within seven days of live telecast. These ratings are used to buy and sell those ad units. The rules also stipulate that the national advertising load be the same in all versions of a program viewable for seven days after telecast. While we cannot unilaterally change the definition of the ratings, we continue to work with the industry to expand the current definition to reflect today’s media consumption behavior.

Meanwhile, Nielsen has been measuring all television viewing time to the TV screen since 1987 without regard to whether and how programs contain commercials. We provide clients with an “average program minute” metric that matches the better-known “average commercial minute” metric. Today, these measurements cover DVR viewing up to 35 days, as well as on-demand viewing at any time, whether delivered through set-top boxes, game consoles or “over the top” (OTT) devices such as Apple TV, Roku and Google Chromecast. We can also measure all video content on PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones and DVD/Blu-ray devices regardless of when the content was watched and regardless of the commercial load the content contains. This is what goes into our Total Content Ratings offering, designed to bring together all viewing on all platforms so that our clients get a total picture of their programs’ audiences.

Fiction No. 2: Nielsen’s measurement is “panel only,” which is inferior to big-data solutions.

Reality:  Nielsen’s Total Audience solution is based on a combination of panel and big data.

Nielsen’s measurement of PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones already uses a combination of panel and big data. We use “census” counts and third-party big data matches to produce the ratings for all digital consumption. As for traditional TV, we will include big data in traditional TV measurement when this data reaches sufficient quality, scale and availability. Today, big data solutions that make use of set-top box data cannot tell if a TV set is on or off, who is actually watching the TV, how viewership breaks down by age and gender demographics or ethnicity, and so on. At present, therefore, the data we provide for the TV ratings is based on a panel accredited by the Media Ratings Council, which offers the most reliable and accurate measure of viewing activity in TV households in America today.

Fiction No. 3: Nielsen can’t measure mobile viewing.

Reality: Nielsen measures mobile viewing. Clients that work with us benefit from remarkably accurate census measurement.

In 2014, Nielsen launched a measurement solution that allows us to capture every video view and ad exposure on the digital screen—whether PC, Mac, smartphone, tablet, OTT device or game console.  Clients that leverage this solution get the benefit of incredibly accurate, true census measurement, whether we are measuring a hugely popular program or ad or a single viewer. Our solution leverages large panels to calibrate big data sets, as well as partnerships that include Facebook, the owner of the highest quality person-level mobile registration data in the world.  We collect, anonymously, the demographics of more than 180 million Americans, enabling us to deliver both content and ad measurement to our clients. This is a crucial part of our Total Audience offering, which is designed to measure any piece of video, audio or text content or advertising, no matter where, how or by whom it is consumed.

Fiction No. 4: Nielsen doesn’t measure subscription video-on-demand (SVOD).

Reality: Nielsen measures the vast majority of SVOD viewing and is increasing its coverage all the time.

Today, Nielsen can measure all VOD and SVOD content viewed on a TV, whether accessed from a set-top box on-demand menu or delivered through a subscription streaming service such as Amazon or Netflix. Our Television panel includes 100,000 people and over 50,000 TV-connected devices (Roku boxes, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, etc.) across the entire U.S. Our 2015 launch of signature-based measurement leverages audio-based signatures attached to individual programs by our clients. This allows us to measure over 6,000 programs currently being streamed by SVOD services—measurement that helps our clients understand, among other things, to what degree SVOD viewing is complementary to or substitutive of more traditional offerings.

It’s not entirely a mystery why these myths about Nielsen persist. People often assume that anything we measure would be included as part of the traditional TV commercial ratings. But we don’t make the rules—our job is to deliver accurate data against the current definition of the TV ratings 365 days a year.

We will continue to work with our clients to provide precise and comprehensive insight into video consumption, so that our clients can deliver content in ways consumers want to watch and that our clients can monetize. With the delivery of the Total Audience framework, we are already producing consistent, comparable metrics for content and advertising across all devices and platforms, making it possible for the industry to measure and count “everything.”

This article originally appeared on Media Village. Megan Clarken is president of product leadership at Nielsen.