Nielsen Calls For Industry To Adopt New Ratings Standards

Over the past two years, we have seen a decline in traditional live TV ratings, first starting among younger demos. Beginning in April, that decline began to accelerate to include most demos, leading broadcast and cable networks to ask questions about their missing viewers.

These questions come at the same time we are witnessing a real-time evolution of the broadcast and cable industry. Today, consumers have more control than ever before — and media companies are being forced to adapt to the new realities of what people watch, and when they watch it.

The growing penetration of new devices and the popularity of subscription-based streaming services, time-shifted and over-the-top viewing — as well as cord-cutting and cord shaving — are fundamentally changing the TV industry.

At the same time, the industry continues to trade on C3/C7 ratings for national TV. Nielsen recently made smartphone and tablet viewing eligible for inclusion in the ratings. However, this does not solve the dilemma that the underlying industry trading metric has not kept pace with consumer behavior or the business models being adopted by today’s media companies.  



The C3/C7 ratings reflect the average audience of commercials within a specific program, and are based on eligibility rules, which were originally defined and agreed upon by the industry in May 2007. These rules require that the national advertising load be the same in all versions of a program viewed within playback mode up until three or seven days, in order to get Nielsen Commercial Ratings credit. Under industry definitions, the ads cannot be changed or delivered differently to various audiences in that window. They must all be the same.

While much of the television program and ad viewing today meet that criteria, more and more video content is being viewed outside of the C3/C7 window via different devices, including connected TV technologies like Apple TV or Roku boxes, gaming consoles and digital devices, PCs, tablets and smartphones.

In many of these cases, ads are being dynamically inserted and changed from the original broadcast, which means neither the program content or the ads are being included today in the “Nielsen ratings” for traditional TV — even if Nielsen is measuring that viewing.

We believe that the decline in traditional TV ratings can be attributed to the following four factors. Of these, three are real declines and one is due to a Nielsen methodology change:

  • The growing shift of audiences to time-shifted digital content, including both SVOD (subscription video on demand), such as Netflix, and digital properties distributing traditional television programming, such as Hulu. Neither of these are included in the current TV ratings under industry definitions
  • Increased viewership of TV programs on devices such as tablets and smartphones, which became eligible for inclusion in Nielsen ratings this fall.
  • Growing time and attention spent on newer sources of video content, such as YouTube
  • The addition of broadband-only viewing to the TV ratings universe

In September 2013, at the behest of the industry, Nielsen expanded the definition of what constitutes a television household to include any home with a TV set that can receive video on that TV via a broadband source, but without a broadcast antenna or cable subscription. 

This definition change artificially increased the denominator (the total number of households that our measurement represents) upon which the ratings are based. However, because much of the television video content viewed by broadband-only homes is not encoded by our Nielsen watermark, this broadband-only activity did not contribute to traditional TV viewing.

At Nielsen, our charter is to deliver comprehensive measurement — to follow consumers wherever they go, and however they view, across all platforms and devices. Today, we are measuring a wide variety of video content and advertising viewed on the TV set and on digital devices.

Our goal is to create a total measurement of all content and all ads — regardless of how they are accessed and the ad model that they’re supporting. Nielsen’s vision is to create an environment where all video content can be consistently measured with ratings for both the content and the advertising.

We believe that the fundamental changes occurring in today’s viewing landscape call for the industry to adopt a new set of ratings standards:

  1. Total Audience, which combines the total audience for a program or content regardless of the mode of access, including SVOD.
  2. Total Commercial, which includes ratings for the ad campaign regardless of where and how it’s consumed, providing flexibility for dynamic ad insertion.

The television industry is the custodian of the greatest professionally produced content available. But as viewers continue to shift to digital devices, competition for time and attention is intensifying. 

The challenge is to retain and build audiences and to prove their value to advertisers. To do this, Nielsen is prepared to present the total picture of the consumer — one that fully reflects their viewing of all content available and delivers a proven return to our clients on their investments. Nielsen is committed to measuring the total audience.



14 comments about "Nielsen Calls For Industry To Adopt New Ratings Standards".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 13, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.

    Two questions: Nielsen has held two (2) National Client Meetings this week, one in NYC, one in LA. At no time did I hear Nielsen mention plans for a general publication of a statement such as this. First question: Why not? (I regret & apologize for this question, if I missed any prior notice of the statement's publication scheduled for today.) Given the difference between a Nielsen National Client Meeting and a Nielsen Commentary written for the General Public (in MediaPost), I believe Nielsen Clients were owed substantial prior notice of some kind, either by personal meeting, webinar or e-mailed client communication. Second question: Why has MediaPost been chosen to carry this Nielsen message? Organizations such the Media Rating Council and MediaPost need to be careful when it comes to giving the appearance of carrying Nielsen's water. Where are the statements of journalistic distance and detachment necessary for the reader to perceive objectivity. Given Brian West's (Nielsen COO, reporting to Nielsen's inscrutable CEO, Mitch Barns) dramatic admissions of Nielsen's "negligence" (My word; Not his.) (i.e., a failure to exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in like circumstances) over the past several months, which he made at the Nielsen National Client Meeting in NYC on Monday (November 10) , one would think that Nielsen would exercise more care and forethought when it comes to crucial Commentaries of this nature. The proposals and plans Nielsen announced on Monday in NYC were neither totally convincing nor were they totally acceptable to clients seeking accuracy, reliability and utility (i.e., audited methodological quality) in Nielsen data. I look forward to being enlighted by Nielsen and MediaPost. Thank you. Sincerely, Nicholas P. Schiavone

  2. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 14, 2014 at 11:42 a.m.

    Question Three: Would MediaPost, Nielsen or both explain why this MediaDailyNews Commentary ("Nielsen Calls For Industry To Adopt New Ratings Standards") now has a new dateline: "by Megan Clarken, 3 hours ago" [screen grab at 11:25 AM ET on Friday, November 14, 2014.] Unfortunately, I do not have the time - nor should any reader - to compare this Friday (11.14) manifesto to Thursday's (11.13), as the author and title seem identical. A client's time is scarce, precious. It's money! There's no time for nonsense or ambiguity when it comes to currency data. In sum, what's going on? Is this like Nielsen reissuing ratings? Forget "New Ratings Standards!" I'll settle for old standards like "getting it right from the start" and "always telling the truth." Is that so hard after 91 years of business, Nielsen Holdings N.V. ?

  3. Joe Mandese from MediaPost Inc., November 14, 2014 at 12:15 p.m.

    Mr. Schiavone, responding for MediaPost to question No. 2, we don't believe we are carrying anyone's water when we give them a platform for publishing their perspectives and points-of-view. We have very explicit guidelines for guest commentaries, but it is part of our publishing mandate to create an open forum for industry executive to share their opinions on important industry issues that are relevant to our readers. We felt Ms. Clarken's column merited that. As for question No. 3, I am looking for a technical explanation why the publication date would have been updated, but I don't have an answer for that now. As they used to say in television, stay tuned.

  4. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 14, 2014 at 12:37 p.m.

    Thank you, Mr. Mandese and MediaPost Publications.

    I look forward to understanding better the evolution of ratings standards and digital publishing practices.

    Nicholas P. Schiavone,
    Former Chairman of CONTAM & Chief Knowledge Officer of NBC, Former Board Member of the ARF (Advertising Research Foundation) & the MRC (Media Rating Council),
    Current Member of the Advertising Research Council, Market Research Council, AAPOR & WAPOR

  5. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 14, 2014 at 2:25 p.m.

    "It's like deja-vu, all over again." Yogi Berra

    MediaDailyNews: Commentary Date: 11/14/2014
    "Nielsen Calls For Industry To Adopt New Ratings Standards"
    by Megan Clarken
    While much of the television program and ad viewing today meet that criteria, more and more video content is being viewed outside of the C3/C7 window via different devices (6th Paragraph). The fundamental changes occurring in today ... ...More

    MediaDailyNews: Commentary Date: 11/13/2014
    "Nielsen Calls For Industry To Adopt New Ratings Standards"
    by Megan Clarken
    While much of the television program and ad viewing today meet that criteria, more and more video content is being viewed outside of the C3/C7 window via different devices (6th Paragraph). The fundamental changes occurring in today ... ...More

    More & more, I wonder.

  6. michael hugo from Reynolds Consumer Products, November 14, 2014 at 3:45 p.m.

    Nicholas, It appears that the original article was post-dated for some reason. I noticed yesterday (Thursday) when I read it that it was dated Friday, November 14th at 8 AM. Perhaps it was released early?

  7. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 14, 2014 at 5:56 p.m.

    Michael, This is a policy and process that MediaPost Publications must answer for. Appreciate your speculation. I am withholding judgment. The inconsistency seems to have inadvertently given Nielsen a double dip at the ice cream (or frozen yogurt) of reader attention, which does not seem fair or appropriate, especially under the circumstances. Onwards & upwards. Thanks again.

  8. Robin Solis from, November 15, 2014 at 4:12 p.m.

    Yes, we need a standard, but why should Neilsen be the ordained entity to do it? They don't appear to be very "with it" in the digital realm. I say, may the best person with the best tools to measure, win.

  9. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 15, 2014 at 6:05 p.m.

    So it appears from the time stamp above that the MediaPost clock started twice (2X) on the "Nielsen Standards Commentary." Once, Thursday. Again, Friday. (In media, frequency is everything.). While some might be perturbed by the unintended repeat forced exposure, this MediaPost "digital publishing error" seems like poetic justice of sorts. However, this reader hopes it does not presage more Nielsen Double Talk (NDT) (2X) when it comes to the matter of methodological standards & research quality. Time will tell. Onwards & upwards. Sincerely, Nicholas P. Schiavone

  10. Martin Focazio from EPAM Systems, November 17, 2014 at 3:11 p.m.

    Leaving the posting dates and such aside, I have a question.

    In the message, I read:

    "Increased viewership of TV programs on devices such as tablets and smartphones, which became eligible for inclusion in Nielsen ratings this fall."

    What % of eligible shows are actually reporting their consumption on tablets/smartphone/etc.?

  11. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 18, 2014 at 7:40 p.m.

    Dear Martin, Technically, I perceive a difference between eligibility and measurability. Hence, the basic question that I would ask at this juncture, as there are about five weeks left to the Fall of 2014, is what percentage of tablet and smartphone viewership is Nielsen actually capturing this Fall and what proportion of total viewership is this mobile viewership accounting for. Of course, all these data would need to be categorized by program, time period and demographic just for starters. I believe Nielsen claimed at its National Client Meetings last Monday and Wednesday to have the capacity for passive measurement based on (audio) signatures. If that is so, then theoretically 100% of shows ought to be eligible for mobile measurement. Hence, Nielsen ought not to be withholding the incremental program audience from their TV Ratings reporting, if Nielsen possesses it. I just wonder how much Nielsen actually does possess, if any at this moment. Looking forward to learning soon where all the players stand with respect to the dimensions of mobile measurement and mobile ratings. Onwards and upwards. Nicholas P. Schiavone

  12. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 19, 2014 at 10:38 a.m.

    Nielsen is making clear the difference between eligibility and measurability. Fall 2014 mobile ratings for the NTI Measurement appear to be far less than "half a loaf," as usual, and not necessarily "better than none." Check the latest from VARIETY ...

    Nielsen Set to Report Netflix, Amazon Video Viewing
    — But Only Part of It

    November 18, 2014 | 10:14PM ET / Todd Spangler, VARIETY- NY Digital Editor [@xpangler]

    Nielsen is promising to give content companies a glimpse into some viewing metrics of Netflix’s and Amazon’s subscription video-on-demand services. But its measurement of the SVOD universe will be far from comprehensive.

    Starting next month, the research company plans to start monitoring usage of Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video among participants of its nationwide consumer panel, using audio-recognition technology to determine what they’re watching.

    However, Nielsen initially will only let companies see SVOD viewing information for their own content — not the entire scope of what Netflix and Amazon subscribers are watching. That means there still won’t be an industry measure of, say, how many people have tuned in to Netflix’s “House of Cards” relative to other titles.

    The purpose of the new service, Nielsen says, is to let media companies begin to gauge what effect licensing programming to SVOD services has traditional TV ratings. At some point in the future, Nielsen suggested, clients may be able to access SVOD viewing data for content other than their own; but even then, it’s unclear how complete a picture that will be of overall Netflix and Amazon streaming usage.

    Nielsen’s plans to track viewing on SVOD services were first reported by the Wall Street Journal. Netflix declined to comment; an Amazon rep did not respond to a request for comment.

    Hulu, which is an ad-supported service, is already measured by Nielsen. But Netflix and Amazon, whose SVOD services don’t run advertising, do not provide viewing data to third-party firms (although they do share some metrics with content partners).

    According to Nielsen, SVOD services are definitely cutting into TV time. For example, consumers 18-49 who subscribe to an SVOD service spend 20% less time watching TV than non-subscribers do, the company’s research shows.

  13. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, November 19, 2014 at 11:47 a.m.

    Good points, Nick. Also, it is important to note that Nielsen is using Arbitron's portable peoplemeter (PPM ) methodology----or something just like it---- to measure "viewing". As Nick points out, this is a passive system, which does not rely on respondents to describe their viewing behavior. That's fine, as people often forget what they watched or give incorrect answers. However, the PPMs require a "respondent" to wear or carry a device around all day---day after day----which picks up an encoded audio signal from the program source. If this is "heard" by the PPM, the assumption is that the program was "viewed". So far there has been no attempt to validate this assumption---as far as I am aware. Common sense tells me that an unknown proportion of the "viewing" found by the PPMs is not viewing at all. Moreover, it is likely that whatever inflation is caused by the 100% viewing assumption, is not a constant across all locations, program types, demos, etc. Shouldn't Nielsen----or the industry, in general---- be investigating this so users of the data have a better idea of what they are getting and what it means? Or is having data---any data----all that matters?

  14. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, November 19, 2014 at 12:33 p.m.

    Thank you, Ed. As usual, your precisions, comments and questions are vital in getting at the real nature of our knowledge and understanding in the domain of media audience measurement. Your thinking reminds me of the brilliant work of the famous French philosopher, Henri-Louis Bergson. He drew a critical distinction between the consciousness of man (or woman) and that of animals. I recall this because you properly ask if what we, the industry, want is merely "any data" or data that are comparable, combinable and correct (i.e., accurate, reliable and useful against auditable methodological standards used by E&Y and the MRC). So to paraphrase Bergson, what we ought to want as media researchers is the audience data that a man "knows that he knows," as opposed to the so-called audience data that digital machines merely "know" courtesy of simplistic signal detection, editorial rules and combinatorial methods. Onwards & upwards.

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