Why Declining TV Viewership Numbers Are Only Part Of The Story

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 20, 2015
Television viewing has changed more in the past five years than in the previous 55.

It’s no secret that Americans are watching less traditional TV and increasingly turning to mobile phones, tablets and streaming options like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon for entertainment.

So although traditional TV ratings have continued to decline, almost everyone believes viewership isn’t necessarily dropping, it’s just not being measured accurately. Solve that problem and everyone’s happy, right?

This is the prevailing mantra of most media companies and at least two of the largest measurement companies in the world.

Earlier this month, Nielsen announced their Total Audience Measurement solution, a tool that will measure all viewing across linear TV, DVR, VOD, connected TV devices (Roku, Apple TV and Xbox), mobile, PC and tablets. Comscore is taking their shot at this problem through their XMEDIA product (and coupled with their recent merger with Rentrak, this entity could evolve into a bonafide Nielsen competitor).



And everyone’s fingers are crossed. No industry likes when its leaders sustain a loss of $45B in market cap in a week. That was not a fun summer week for media.

But, there’s a cautionary tale that hasn’t gotten much play in this conversation that counterparts in the music and publishing industries know far too well. Adapting traditional business models to successful digital ones is not as simple as re-creating the same monetization and measurement strategies. 

So what more can we do?

It’s critical to take advantage of the signals that exist in the new digital world that have no counterpart in trad media and determine how to make them valuable to media companies and advertisers. That means new ways of looking at measurement and even thinking about valuing shows beyond just viewership.  

Think for a second about the millions of fan endorsements: the “likes,” “re-blogs,” “favorites,” “follows,””shares” across Facebook and Instagram and Tumblr, to name a few, that fans express every single day about the shows they love.  Shows have become more than 30- or 60-minute serialized experiences; they’ve evolved into brands that live beyond telecasts (live or on-demand).

Digital platforms enable audiences to engage with programs beyond what the viewership data shows (live or time-shifted). For instance, our data shows more fans engage with "The Walking Dead" on social and digital platforms when it is out of season than broadcast shows get on the night of their season premieres.  

When AMC can quantify this, they can monetize their properties outside of the traditional viewing window through native advertising, mobile games, integrated content experiences, all of which viewership data does not empower.

The challenge to the industry is that established and upcoming measurement standards don’t yet articulate total audience engagement -- which goes well beyond simply viewership.  The most valuable new and complementary measurement, planning and ad sales tools will be those that measure audience response across multiple social and digital sources.  

After all, the Internet fosters audience engagement in a way that television cannot, so we believe the system to measure this new world needs to be more than an adaptation; it needs to be an evolution.  

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