Nielsen Ratings Are Dead -- Long Live Audience-Targeting Capabilities?

We are in the middle of the upfronts. If you’re not part of the TV ad buyer/seller economy, here’s a little primer: Upfronts are where the TV networks, cable networks and other assorted TV dependent content distributors showcase their wares for the upcoming TV season to advertisers and agencies. The goal is to entice said advertisers and agencies to commit large chunks of their budget upfront to shows, networks or even whole ecosystems (like ESPN or “Turner”).

These deals mattered a lot in the olden days, when broadcasters were heavily dependent on commercial revenues to fund their business. Today — not so much. Broadcasters are almost all part of larger content creation and distribution networks, making money from retransmission and affiliate fees, content reruns, subscription based platforms, etc.

Most broadcasters distribute their channels multiplatform, so you can watch them on TV, on your cable on-demand, option, via third-party on-demand platforms like Hulu or Amazon, on a cable network or even through their own platforms (CBS and ABC/Disney all have offerings; more will follow).



And the way advertising is being sold is fragmenting right along with the platform and distribution evolution. Upfronts used to be about securing desirable prime-time, daytime, late-night and sports spots. But today, buying a spot in a prime-time slot means you will reach only a portion of the total audience of a given TV show, which is now made up of the combination of live viewing plus viewing on all other distribution platforms plus delayed viewing via all channels and platforms that offer the shows on their respective outlets.

This means that if you want to buy the audience that watches new episodes of “Roseanne” or “The Bachelor,” you will need to buy a multitude of spots and slots from a wide array of sellers. And while “live viewing” is still important, all that other viewing matters now as well.

It matters so much, in fact, that Turner Broadcasting president David Levy and other Turner executives are suggesting the industry should do away with the Nielsen rating, reported Alex Weprin in Television News Daily.

That is quite a shocking idea. Not so much that the rating has to evolve — it must. But to kill the Nielsen rating is a similar seismic shift to when the EU adopted the euro, and the French franc and other local currencies went away. That took some doing, if you recall, and there were outliers who went their separate way (the U.K., Norway, Switzerland).

In its upfront presentation, Turner encouraged advertisers and media buyers to sponsor the whole lot, not just a 30-second spot. And while you could say “of course they would — that way they sell more at a higher price,” it’s also true that advertisers in search of an audience should look beyond silos to holistic audience delivery.

The danger is that Turner and other broadcasters fragment audience measurement across a multitude of company-owned-and-operated measurement systems. My prediction (and hope) is that the industry will stick with a consolidated idea and currency of what a viewer, and therefor a rating, is. It will (and must!) be different from today — but it must be an industrywide-accepted standard.

4 comments about "Nielsen Ratings Are Dead -- Long Live Audience-Targeting Capabilities?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 18, 2018 at 1:12 p.m.

    Not to worry, Maarten. TV is not going to abandon viewing measurements---otherwise known as "ratings". All that will happen in a number of ways, will be adding some sort of indexing or---where it applies---attribution metric to the nielsens and even this will not be a universal shift as many "mass product" advertisers have no need for such refinements and wont pay extra for them. The networks have realized that "big data" set usage rating indices used in combination with advertiser defined target profiles---gives them a huge edge in the selling game and they are, quite sensibly, trying to exploit this to their advantage by selling the very audiences they now garner at a higher price. I'd do the same thing were I in their place.

    The primary stumbling block remains---corporate buying, instead of brand by brand buying. At present at least 75% of national TV time is bought on a corporate basis.You cant create anything but a broad and fairly meaningless audience guarantee metric for a corporate buy---no matter hard you try.Until this changes---and there are few signs that it is about to change----all of the talk about "advanced" targeting, doing away with Nielsen ratings, etc. is mostly talk---though, to be objective about it, whatever materializes in this area bears close watching.

  2. Al Fiala from WOFL, May 18, 2018 at 1:20 p.m.

    Nielsen absolutely needs to evolve their methodology. They need much bigger samples and cross platform measurement to start. The addition of PPM data will help stabalize overnights, but I don't think their names will be truly representative untill they incorporate set top box / return path data. You're correct about Live Only ratings becoming less important. In fact, they announced yesterday the elimination of Live Only ratings as currency in most products. They are replacing it with a Live+1 (Live+27 hours).

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 18, 2018 at 2:21 p.m.

    They are really not ready to abandon Neilson. No plan B. But that EU comparison not so much.

  4. Tracey Scheppach from Matter More Media, May 18, 2018 at 4:10 p.m.

    Evolution is a part of game. Change it must! Independent counting of true audience delivery will evolve. Yes it benefits the networks. It should. It also benefits the smart clients. Striking the balance should be the focus. Not holding on to a monopolistic small sample! The time is now. 

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