Nielsen develops new definition of television viewing

After years of complaints from television networks that audience measurement isn’t accurate enough, Nielsen has now agreed to expand its definition of television viewing and the measurement tools that go with it. The move by Nielsen is an attempt to correct the old system and address industry concerns.

The New York City-based television ratings company said it would expand its system to measure broadband, Xbox and, later this year, Apple’s iPads. Other devices will come in the future.

The decision to expand the ratings came from a meeting last week of the What Nielsen Measures Committee, a group that has been meeting for nearly a year. The Nielsen committee is made up of representatives from major TV networks, local TV stations, cable TV networks, advertising agencies and some major advertisers.

By this September, when the next TV season begins, Nielsen expects to have in place new hardware and software tools in the nearly 23,000 TV homes it samples, TheHollywood Reporter said. That equipment will continue to measure viewership from the 75 percent of homes that rely on cable, satellite and over-the-air broadcasts. However, it will add measurement to devices that deliver video from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, some iPads and tablets that use Wi-Fi, over-the-top services and to TV-enabled game systems like the Xbox and PlayStation.

A second phase, scheduled to begin by the end of the year, will be more comprehensive and expand to television viewing on all iPads and other tablet devices. The goal of the second phase will be to capture video viewing of any kind from any source.

The change at Nielsen does not mean the company will provide ratings data for services such as Netflix. The measurement company will capture how much time is spent on that kind of viewing, but to actually provide ratings, Netflix would have to agree to encode its program signals so that Nielsen software can identify them and trace their source.

The traditional TV networks encode their signals to be compatible with Nielsen’s measurement tools.

While Nielsen wants to expand its measurement outside of the home, TheHollywood Reporter said that is not part of its new initiative. Nielsen, the report said, will wait until it acquires Arbitron, which does more of such out of home measurement, before making that a priority.