Prime Time

Real milestones – the kind that put a dent in the media universe – don’t come along that often, but when they do, they change the way we think about how people use media.

Ted Turner.

The 5% solution.

Google Search.


Social media.

Steve Jobs, Apple’s iPhone and the mobile apps revolution.

In the nearly half a century that I’ve been covering this industrial revolution we call “media,” some of its most significant inflection points were documented by – who else – Nielsen, which despite its flaws, reboots, and constant array of challengers, has more or less remained our common reference point for dimensionalizing the media universe. At least, so far.

So I was struck by last week’s announcement that Amazon Prime’s “Thursday Night Football” coverage will be the first live-streaming show rated by Nielsen, and the relative lack of fanfare surrounding it. It made some news, was one of the most-read stories on MediaPost for the week.

But to me, it was one of the most significant recent developments redefining what we have historically called "television," but which nowadays, we fumble around with a variety of modifiers -- nonlinear, over-the-top, and yes, even "connected TV" -- to redefine its expansion in new forms due to advances in new technologies enabling people to watch in new ways.

For at least half my time spent covering the medium, people have been flummoxing how to describe it and what to actually call it. So it seems fitting that yet another Nielsen ratings milestone reminds us it's really just TV.

The same thing was true when Ted Turner first started bouncing a local Atlanta station off a satellite, creating the first nationally distributed cable TV network, or when he launched the first 24-hour news network using the same technology. Or the litany of new "narrowcasted" networks that emerged as part of that "500 channel universe" expansion we eventually called "cable TV."

Of when savvy entrepreneurs like Henry Siegel (LBS), the King brothers (King World), Mike Kammerer (ITN), figured out how to turn locally distributed TV shows into the equivalent of national networks, all by the simple act of getting into Nielsen's "pocketpieces."

The truth is  that TV has been an ever-expanding universe in and of itself, ever since the Farnsworth invention, and every technological change that came after it.



Network hard drives.

Cloud computing.

Yes, many of these technologies have changed how -- and often when and where -- people watched TV, but they were all just part of its progression.

You've no doubt read columns like this before -- maybe even some written by me -- but we keep writing and rewriting them, because we're just trying to define something we think needs redefining, but it doesn't. Because it's been defined and redefined so many times already. And we still think of it as "TV."

I started writing this version of this column over the past several weeks when I heard a couple of people I respect and consider authorities on the subject grousing once again about what to call the expanded TV universe.

One of them was GroupM's Brian Wieser, who in a recent episode of his "This Week Next Week" podcast reminded us what all the new streaming variants actually are: "I will pound the table," he said, "and say, it's all one professional video universe."

Which leads me to the other person inspiring this column, long-time agency media exec turned new media marketing executive, BBTV CMO Martin Cass.

Cass, whose company basically aggregates the best of online video's so-called "creator universe" -- what we once called "user-generated content" created by non-professional industry insiders, and sells it to national and international advertisers, says the new TV variant, has recently achieved a milestone of its own that bares some industry attention.

Sourcing some loosely cobbled together stats including a Forbes article and an eMarketer report, Cass made the case that both CTV, as well as the "creator universe" within it -- primarily big numbers shows distributed via YouTube -- has also reached an inflection point worthy of your attention, because it is now a significant share of what people actually watch on the connected TVs and devices inside their living rooms. You know, what we previously might have called "prime time," etc.

"And yet, it feels like a secret in plain sight that the top ranking creator networks are some 30% bigger in unique viewership than the next largest "old entertainment" player -- NBC, according to Comscore -- and YouTube dominates the landscape by some distance," Cass asserts.

When I asked him to back it up with some firmer numbers, Cass groused that there has been some latency in Comscore's ability to actually do that on a syndicated basis, but was able to get Comscore to generate a custom analysis of BBTV's reach (see below).


"This is total network and really doesn’t tell the whole story," Cass says, noting that if he were to analyze a segment such as "sports CTV," BBTV's reach on the platform would be more like 22%.

Exact numbers aside, his real point is that a big portion of BBTV -- or other aggregators and/or individual programmers -- distributing via YouTube, are now actually a sizable portion of the CTV universe watching on their living room sets or devices, and that big brands and agencies should start thinking that way.

So at that point, I turned to the best big agency bean counter advising the world's biggest brands on how to think about it.

"We’ve made a judgement call that YouTube does not go in the professional video line item in any country in our 'This Year, Next Year' data," says GroupM's Wieser. "While there clearly is some content that is professional or semi-pro, we don’t think it’s a majority of the content or revenue.

"There’s clearly a case to include YouTube in a TV line item for an individual marketer, but for purposes of this modeling we don’t think it’s there yet," he continues, explaining, "As it stands, if you include all of YouTube you might arguably include estimates of revenue associated with video assets that run on Facebook/Instagram.

"And then what do you do with a video ad that runs on a podcast consumed on a PC? Lots of big questions."

4 comments about "Prime Time".
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  1. Dan Ciccone from STACKED Entertainment, August 22, 2022 at 10:42 a.m.

    A lot to unpack here, but this piece really illustrates how far behind legacy ad and media agencies are.

    First, Nielsen tracking anything in the digital distribution of video does not mean anything. Nielsen's rich history of fumbling ratings and being woefully behind in more precise measurement when digital tools are readily available speaks volume.  Asking this old dog to learn new tricks just doesn't work.

    Secondly, per usual, Twitch, arguably the most popular live-streaming platform amongst 13-24 year olds, is rarely mentioned in these articles.  If you're not looking at Twitch, you're missing a big part of the picture and a huge part of the audience.

    Finally, it is not to an agency's benefit to try to define "professional video - content that is professional or semi-pro" in order to target an audience.  It is another illustration that many of these agencies just don't get it...the same agencies that have been fighting user generated content for well over a decade even though UGC is just as good, and many times better, than studio produced content.

    The audience doesn't care if a professional crew produced and directed content or if a creator in Detroit shot and edited the whole video on his iPhone.  All that matters is if they are watching it and if they are entertained.

    Prime-time TV is all "professionally" produced, yet ratings continue to dwindle lower and lower and content on YouTUbe and Twitch continue to increase in viewership.  So whether we call it TV or not is irrelevant - the industry watchdogs continue to lag behind the audience in a time when we have more than enough tools to figure out where the audience actually is vs. using some antiquated methods that Nielsen continually messes up.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, August 22, 2022 at 12:12 p.m.

    Dan, it's not only unfair  but inaccurate to disparage as Nielsen as continually messing up, fumbling the ball, etc. just because of a single unfortunate---and badly handled---incident during the onset of the pandemic crisis when Nielsen was afraid to send its field force out and lost touch with portions of its national TV rating panel---causing a slight "undercount".

    For decades Nielsen has faced competitors for its national rating business and its has weathered each storm mainly because not a single challenger---Arbitron, Percy, Audits Of Great Britain, SMART, etc. was able to demonstrate that Nielsen was substantially misrepresenting the size of the TV audience, its demos or how the audience was divided between various sellers. This is not to say that Nielsen is perfect, nor that it hasn't been slow to move into the digital arena but it is vital that who ever provides national TV ratings really understands the TV business and how the programmers work---and Nielsen certainly has that degree of experience.

    A second point concerns this business about "professionally made" content. This is not just a "legacy agency" pipe dream, it is a widely held belief by many if not most agency clients that they benefit in a number of ways by having their commercials presented in breaks in professionally made programming and even better if it's "premium" content. There are three reasons for this---all harking back to ancient times when advertisers developed and sponsored their own radio and TV shows. They believe that the audiences will be larger and more attentive to their messages. They also dont want to be associated with low quality programming. One might say that this is BS and all that counts is how many "impressions" are delivered---but the CPMs currently being paid for "quality" fare versus other stuff are there for all to see---"quality" commands much higher CPMs. It always has. And the agency clients approve every buy that is made in their behalf.

    Just for the record, however, I agree with you that this should be a time for reevaluating, not just sticking with the old ways of doing things and many opportunities in CTV and digital media are being missed by overly cautious ---or disinterested--- traditional TV advertisers---especially those big upfront buyers.

  3. Jack Wakshlag from Media Strategy, Research & Analytics replied, August 22, 2022 at 2:23 p.m.

    Well said Ed. I would add that third party measurement remains a neccessity for advertisers as well a publishers/networks.  Self graded homework cannot continue to be acceptable. Nielsen and other third party providers offer solutions at low cost vs. the amount of money lost to ad tech providers and fraud.  

  4. John Grono from GAP Research, August 22, 2022 at 7:40 p.m.

    A good point Jack.

    If all the skimming and fraud was pooled there would be a massive amount of money to fund an industry owned (not publisher/network) third party measurement entity.   It would also be imperative that such an entity understood the difference between 'views' and 'viewers' which sadly has been side-stepped by many content producers and providers.

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