Legacy Measurement Will Ruin TV's Second Golden Age (And How To Save It)

The last time you had dinner with friends, did you discuss your favorite television shows? In many ways, television has supplanted both novels and films as the most culturally relevant medium of our time.

Yet the television business is said to be dying. How can that be?

As it turns out, TV content remains incredibly popular. But television audiences are increasingly watching outside the L+7 ratings window. Moreover, those audiences are increasingly watching on devices other than TV sets, or they’re watching via OTT and SVOD, as opposed to traditional linear methods.

The result is that everyday, more and more audience isn’t being captured by legacy measurement.

This is a significant problem because revenues have always been tied to viewership. In effect, a legacy measurement system that began decades ago is crippling television’s ability to monetize its content today. But we shouldn’t confuse a measurement challenge with the overall health of the television industry.



What the television industry must do is adapt to technological changes in distribution as well as an ongoing evolution in consumer behavior. The question is how?

It wasn’t too long ago when the only metrics that mattered in television were those that counted live viewership. But it wasn’t until DVR technology had reached a tipping point (and perhaps even several years after that moment) that the industry began to see viewership as an extended window—first a few days, ultimately, a week.

In that sense, the television industry has been chugging along toward a new metric for years.

Today, the industry uses L+7 as its metric, but everyone understands that L+7 is a temporary fix; soon enough, the window will widen to weeks, months, and perhaps even years. Eventually, television executives may even think about viewership in the same way that their digital counterparts touted the virtues of the long tail.

That progression, from live to some arbitrary point after a live broadcast, isn’t new, and it isn’t going to address the fundamental challenge facing the television business.

What is of paramount importance today is that up to 50% of is already happening outside the current window, depending on the program. On the one hand, that’s good news for the television industry because it speaks to the growing appeal of content.

But that fact also highlights an ongoing crisis, because a failure to measure today’s audiences is a significant impediment to understanding a new pattern of consumer behavior.

Rather than moving the cut off line to L+14 or even L+30—metrics that are only relevant to advertisers—television companies need to think in terms of consumer behavior. The real question is no longer how many consumers are tuning in at an appointed time, but rather what share of total screens (TV sets, tablets, mobile, etc.) can your content capture?

Yes, viewers will consume that content through a range of platforms—OTT, SVOD, download—but ultimately, the method of distribution should only be a planning challenge for the content company.

The value of the content, on the other hand, must reflect the share of the total audience video audience, regardless of whether that audience is linear, OTT, online, or mobile.



3 comments about "Legacy Measurement Will Ruin TV's Second Golden Age (And How To Save It)".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics, April 26, 2016 at 9:15 a.m.

    Can't argue with the need for betterTV measurement, Charles. But how does one measure viewing for many of these digital devices as well as out-of-home venues such as hotels, airports, malls, etc.? Is Nielsen going to obtain anything more than device usage, meaning that it's turned on and a particular item of content is on the user's screen? Does this mean that the user is actively watching? Is this a constant across locations and different types of content? Do we assume that any and all ads that appear on any screen are "viewed"? Finally, unless the user identifies him/herself every time the device is operated how do we know who is watching? For smartphones, maybe we can assume that the owner is the user but does that apply to other devices?

    These are just a few of the problems that Nielsen must wrestle with and I fear that it will eventually go with device usage rather than viewing as the final solution. This will be seen by some as a great leap forward for now we will have a full set of "data"on each TV program---extending to all venues for as long as each show---in its original form---is accessed. But is this going to be good data or potentially very misleading data? Are we asking too much?

  2. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston replied, April 26, 2016 at 1:03 p.m.

    No disagreement here. The solution is not so apparent, but maybe ratings will evolve with more competition among those who perform the measurement.

  3. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, April 26, 2016 at 7:09 p.m.

    "All generalizations are dangerous,
    even this one."
    Alexandre Dumas

    The MDN Op-Ed headline caught my eye.  The MDN Op-Ed commentary caused double vision.
    Ed Papazian's comment is more "content-rich" and constructive than mine, so enough said. However, it's been a while since I have read an assessment so ill-conceived and so wrong. 
    So, please excuse me.

    "Legacy Measurement Will Ruin TV's Second Golden Age ..."?  This article starts by sounding like an April Fools" prank ... except it's almost a month late.  One can accuse Nielsen of a number of grave methodological sins since the introduction of the People Meter in 1987, however, the TV's ruination was not, is not and will not be one of them.

    Setting aside the supreme cultutal relevance of the TV medium (What out Beyonce's "Lemonade" just released on iTunes?), to suggest that salvation for an industry's ill-defined measurement problem is an ill-considered solution (i.e., measure "what share of total screens ... can capture your content.") is NUTS (i.e., Nothing Useful To Science).  

    One ought to assume that Mr. Buchwalter was well-intentioned.  But alas, he's made a number of errors in this MDN Op-Ed that are symptomatic of the core problem.  He has cursed the darkness and prescribed a corrective before proving there's an illness or a cure.

    The lesson from Ed Papazian's comment is clear.  Research and business both need to start with the right questions.  There's nothing wrong with a good legacy in life or a good legacy measurement in the "TV" business.

    Onwards & upwards.


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