Nielsen Redefines 'Television,' Will Include Internet-Only Connected Sets, Households

Nielsen began informing clients this week that it has officially decided to change the way it defines television to include non-traditional sources of TV viewing such as Internet-connected devices in its TV ratings sample households, and will make those changes effective with the start of the 2013-14 television season in September. The two most significant implications of those changes are that Nielsen will begin including Internet-only TV households in its sample, and will also start measuring viewing on Internet-connected TVs in its existing sample households.
 
While Nielsen will also modify its official TV universe estimates as a result of the changes, executives said the impact will only be about six-tenths of a percentage point. The material impact on actual TV ratings and usage levels is expected to be small when the changes are made, but Nielsen executive said they need to make the changes now because the role of Internet-connected TV is likely to grow and become more of a factor in the future.
 
“There is definitely a potential to have an impact, but we think it is only going to be about six-tenths of a [percentage point],” explains Brian Fuhrer, senior vice president-national & cross-platform product leader at Nielsen. “We don’t think it’s going to be dramatic.”
 
Whatever the actual impact is on total TV viewing estimates, Fuhrer said it will not impact the official trading currency used by advertisers and agencies -- such as the so-called C3 ratings in national TV negotiations -- because Nielsen will be storing the data from the Internet-connected households and TVs in a “separate bucket.” The reason is that C3 ratings represent the television audience for the average of all commercial minutes, and that much of the viewing done via the Internet-connected TVs is to alternatives sources such as online video or Internet-based platforms like Hulu and Netflix that make TV programming available without their original commercial loads.
 
One exception, he said, is alternative television delivery systems such as Comcast's Xfinity service, which provide conventional television programming and advertising via the Web.
 
One of the most interesting aspects of the change is the fact that Nielsen will be including so-called “zero TV profile” households in its samples -- homes that don’t receive any traditional TV signals via terrestrial, satellite or cable TV. While they represent a small percentage of total viewing, and typically are either younger (college or post-college) or economically challenged households, their demographics and behaviors will be new to television audience measurement, and could represent valuable insights for the future as more homes become Internet-only connected.
 
To date, Nielsen has been keeping records on such households it had contacted but bypassed in previous recruiting efforts, and will begin recontacting them to become part of the sample.
 
Fuhrer said Nielsen will spend the next several weeks contacting customers and trade groups to explain the impact and implications of the changes, and he noted that some of them have wanted Nielsen to move faster on the changes, while others want Nielsen to move more slowly. He said Nielsen has been weighing both sides, but made the decision to redefine television now, because the changes manifesting in the way consumers actually watch television are moving so fast.
 
He said another redefinition of television that would include viewing on wireless connected devices including smartphones, tablets and even TVs connected to wireless gadgets in the near future, but that no date has been set for that.
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11 comments about "Nielsen Redefines 'Television,' Will Include Internet-Only Connected Sets, Households".
  1. Andrew Herzman from Individual , February 22, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
    This is the beginning of the end of television as we know it. TV will go the way of TV guide. The internet is the future of all media. I predict that within 10 years, cable companies will only provide internet service. Phone and TV can both be done over the internet.
  2. Robynne Wildman from Standing With Agnes Nixon , February 22, 2013 at 12:27 p.m.
    Ummm, Andrew. What you do you mean about TV Guide? I still get that mailed to my home every week.
  3. Brent Walker from Soundscapes , February 22, 2013 at 2:40 p.m.
    The transmission medium doesn't define the media...the programming does. Television streamed is still television. Radio streamed is still radio. The Washington Post online is still a journalistic organization providing news. We have to pull ourselves away from the sense that electromagnetic radiation = media. It's the same content, no matter how it's transmitted. That said, now that Nielsen is buying Arbitron, will they begin measuring streaming radio as well as RF radio?
  4. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , February 22, 2013 at 2:45 p.m.
    @Brent. Agree 100%. We're moving from an industry -- and society -- where media is defined by its platform (transmission source) to one defined by its formats (video, sound, text, multimedia, apps, etc.). But people in our industry have lots of reasons for putting one medium or another in a bucket. I saw this in the 80s covering the emergence of cable TV, and all the debate about cable vs. broadcast vs. satellite, while consumers were more about the shows/programming/content.
  5. Brent Walker from Soundscapes , February 22, 2013 at 3:07 p.m.
    @Joe, in your position as a reporter, could you find out whether or not the Nielsen/Arbitron merger will bring about the measurement of non-RF radio? I believe that audio-only entertainment (aka Radio) is as valuable as it always has been, but since people are streaming it for much of the day, there's no measurement. No measurement = no ROI numbers = death for the medium...whether it's popular or not!
  6. Edmund Singleton from Winstion Communications , February 22, 2013 at 3:10 p.m.
    You mean the PBS programing that I watched on-line to avoid their on-screen logo was not counted as having been viewed? Nuts...
  7. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , February 22, 2013 at 3:35 p.m.
    @Brent, I will try, but I don't believe that merger has been finalized and is still facing regulatory review. So it's not necessarily a fait accompli.
  8. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC , February 22, 2013 at 3:58 p.m.
    Frankly, the snarky commentary in this string is unprofessional and unseemly. Kudos to MediaPost & MediaDailyNews for covering the story well. Kudos to Nielsen for providing Brian Fuhrer as an articulate spokesperson for a much neeeded TV research adaptation. Give the significance of the topic, it is profoundly disappointing that publications like the New York Times do not have the ink or inclination to cover the evolution of media, marketing and measurement with sufficient breadth or depth. Other than sleep and work, "media consumption" would seem to occupy more of American's waking hours than any other single activety. What further justification should the NYTimes.com need? At this juncture, one would do well to check the origins of the word "media" in the OED. If memory serves, the word has its origins in Latin (literally 'middle') and shows up around the late 16th century "originally denoting something intermediate in nature or degree." Hence, Joe Mandese in his comment above points to what is truly critical about this topic. What is really changing is the way we THINK about the CONTENT we consume in 2013 and how we find the LANGUAGE and the METRICS to reflect the everchanging realities. Perhaps Mr. Singleton and his company should make a financial contribution to PBS and respectfully recommend that Nova or Frontline explore these challenging matters -- instead of obsessing over the PBS "on-screen logo." Our continued obsessions with the irrelevant and the obvious -- obviously wrong! -- (e.g., Mr. Herzman's death pre-mature obituary for TV), leave us unlikely to see critical topics covered anywhere other than in MediaPost or on PBS. "And that's the way it is." Onwards and upwards!
  9. Michael Draznin from Draznin Consulting , February 22, 2013 at 5:11 p.m.
    Great article, Joe. Particulalrly timely. Also v good discussion re the evolution and (re)definition of 'media.' Kudos.
  10. John Grono from GAP Research , February 22, 2013 at 10:08 p.m.
    Kudos Joe. And Andrew in your universe of one what you say may be true. But how a distribution channel ('the Internet') can be the furure of all media beats me. It may very well be the future distribution channel of all media but that does not make it a medium. Which brings me onto another hobby-horse of mine. Agencies that refer to "digital spend", as though it is a medium unto itself (when they mean online computers, mobiles and tablets). Digital is (at its most basic) is a distribution format of 1s and 0s. For example, you can distribute newspapers digitally. Does that mean it is no longer a newpaper? Same goes for radio, magazines, video, cinema, out-of-home, direct mail. There will be a day when all distribution is digital (though maybe not 100% via the Internet). Using the current vernacular of "digital spend" 100% of advertising will be digital and TV et. al. are gone (despite still being around).
  11. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , February 23, 2013 at 8:59 a.m.
    John -- Great observations. I'm one of those people who believe the language we use to describe what we do as an industry -- and society -- is important. And I've spent most of my time parsing words to understand what people mean when the use the word "media," and one thing I've learned is that different people mean different things at different times, depending on how they are using it. At its most elemental level, we use the word to describe something that conveys information (news, entertainment, art, etc.) between or among us. But each medium also conveys something intrinsic that affects the way we experience that information. It could be because of the format (text, sound, motion, multimedia, etc.) or the interface (page, speaker, screen, etc.), or the environment or setting we experience it in. McLuhan nailed this, but others, especially Dr. Carl Marci (Innerscope: http://bit.ly/VDlZvq ) have proven that those things don't just affect us cognitively, but at unconscious levels that influence the way we feel about the information based on how we experience the medium: reading a book alone at home, watching a movie in a theater, massively multi-playing a game. So I say the meaning of "media" is in the eyes, ears and brains of the beholder. As for the use of the word "digital," I can riff on that one too, but suffice to say, all of these words also have business connotations that are less about how people experience a medium, and more about how people conduct business with them. "Digital" is definitely one of those. ( http://bit.ly/bGkDll )