How To Find The Most Popular Show: As TV Ratings Decline, Nielsen Plays Referee To An Anxious Media Industry
As managing director of the Hollywood powerhouse United Talent Agency, Jay Sures needs access to comprehensive metrics when he wants to gauge the success of his clients’ projects. But as television viewing has splintered onto various platforms and devices during the past decade, the once-simple task of figuring out how many people are watching a show has become a challenge.
“My biggest issue in the television business right now is that we have no standard in ratings,” Sures told a crowd at the Next TV Summit & Expo in New York Wednesday. “There’s no apples-to-apples. There’s nothing we can all look at and say, ‘On Hulu it’s this, on ABC it’s that, on Amazon it’s that.’”
He blames one particular audience-measurement giant: “I think it’s primarily because Nielsen has the market share on the ratings business,” he said. “There has been no real significant innovation and standardization in the world of ratings, and I think that’s critical for all of us.”
It’s a frustration that was echoed time and again throughout the daylong summit — part of NYC Television Week — which focused on the rise of video-streaming platforms and their increasingly disruptive effect on the pay-TV ecosphere. By some measures, there are more TV shows being produced now than ever before. And, with everyone from Amazon.com and Netflix to AOL and Yahoo producing original content, show creators have no shortage of potential outlets.
While those new opportunities have prompted something of a content gold rush, they are running parallel to a growing anxiety over traditional Nielsen ratings, the kind advertisers still care most about. As video streaming has grown, viewership on broadcast and cable TV has taken a nosedive, and executives are clamoring for more inclusive metrics that can measure viewing consistently across platforms.
Jessica Reif Cohen, a top media analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said Wednesday that audience measurement in the TV industry has limped to a “slow grind,” despite the fact that cable and satellite operators are sitting on mounds of data about which shows people watch and how they watch them.
“We clearly need new measurement,” Cohen told the crowd in a keynote discussion. “The crazy, crazy thing is that the distributors have set-top-box data, and they know who’s watching. It’s available. It just needs to be put together in a currency, in a trusted way that everyone can accept. And it just seems to be a very, very slow process.”
Nielsen’s research team has heard it all before. Megan Clarken, the company’s executive vice president for global product leadership, said much of the criticism stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about its role as a third-party ratings reporting firm. In a phone interview Thursday, she called Nielsen a “referee on the park,” tasked with publishing numbers based on stringent criteria that are agreed upon in advance by various industry stakeholders. She said the current ratings rules were negotiated between ad buyers and sellers in 2006, when video streaming was still in its infancy, and the guidelines are based on a set of metrics that the two sides wanted to trade against. …
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Nielsen’s Megan Clarken and comScore’s Joan FitzGerald are speaking at the 2015 asi European Television Conference on 4th-6th November in Venice, Italy.