Commentary

Nielsen's Expansion of the Household Definition Is A Sign of Things to Come

Nielsen’s announcement last week that it will begin counting “non-traditional” ways of watching television in the 2013-14 season probably won’t radically upset the apple cart; Brian Furhrer, a senior vice president at Nielsen, told MediaPost’s Joe Mandese it should probably only cause a six-tenths of a percentage point difference in the size of the television universe of viewers.*

That’s for now. Nielsen says it is making the change because it realizes there are now myriad ways for viewers to access content, and more to come, just as there are new sources of content springing up all over the place. The ratings kingpin wants to stay in front of that chugging train as much as it can.

It has a pretty broad definition of a “TV household” which the new Nielsen definition will mean a home with “at least one operable TV/Monitor with the ability to deliver video via traditional means of antennae, cable STB or Satellite receiver and/or with a broadband connection.”

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The change is still bound to be confusing to advertisers and brands, as broadcasters reach out find a simple way for viewers to watch over-the-air TV on their mobile and online devices. What they see, from content to advertising, will be  different from what they can now access from via Hulu.com, for example.

Disney began Watch ESPN in 2011 and WatchDisney Channel in 2012, allowing various cable operators to offer consumers a way for them to watch offerings from those channels online, on mobile devices and on tablets.

Now Disney is telling its ABC affiliates it wants to extend its Watch franchise to the network, letting, say, the local affiliate in Detroit stream ABC shows and local newscasts under its own flag (“WatchWXYZ.com”).  ABC can count the viewers on those Websites by themselves, they say.  Nielsen would be counting that viewing too, but from it sounds like, the rating service plans to keep the new numbers in a separate report from the traditional Nielsen ratings it provides.

Likewise, it was reported earlier this month, CBS has been testing using the Syncbak platform that allows stations to stream its signal to mobile phones, and keeping that signal within the geographic confines of individual CBS markets. The network may be ready to expand that service to all of its affiliates.

Syncbak already offers it to stations and a handful use it, apparently mainly for their own newscasts and weather reports. I can get a (pretty unimpressive) live weather forecast (smooth jazz laid over weather maps) from Allentown, Pa. indie WFMZ, and (more impressively) their afternoon newscast.

But what devices win in this new Nielsen universe? And what kinds of viewing?

It wouldn’t be surprising at all that Cameron Yuill, founder and CEO of AdGent Digital, thinks Nielsen’s expansion of TV’s home plate will be a boon for his business, which is creating tablet platforms for advertisers. Not only is there a general migration to the tablet from PCs but pretty clearly in the “Goldilocks and The Three Bears” way, that a tablet is just the right size for a certain kind of viewing—not ginormous, not tiny.

The Nielsen announcement is “fantastic for us,” he says. Once there are some numbers underpinning tablet TV viewership, he says, “I can see brands moving their spend to tablets. We’re at the edge of a Golden Age.”

It is to Yuill’s credit that he is quick to remind a reporter that, of course, he’s pre-disposed to think that way, but he has a point when he says the tablet has one peculiar quality that TV does not:  Yuill says   “It’s tactile. Touching creates a relationship. It’s really a fundamental difference for advertisers.”  

Then again, there’s a lot of that going around.

*An earlier version of this blog said the Nielsen changes would only result in a ratings change of six-tenths of a percent. Nielsen explains it will initially result in a six-tenths percent increase in the size of its television universe.  

pjbednarski@comcast.net

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