Nielsen to measure Internet TV viewing

TV and online ratings giant Nielsen has announced a pilot program called Nielsen Digital Program Ratings that will measure, for the first time, audience statistics for TV content viewed on the Internet.

ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, A&E, AOL, The CW, Discovery Communications and Univision have all signed on to participate in the Nielsen test, which will begin this month and run through July. The full roll-out is expected later this year.

As television viewing habits have shifted to online platforms like Netflix, Hulu and other sites, Nielsen has continued to measure TV viewership on set-top boxes in homes. This program is a major shift for the measurement company, which will now gather data beyond the traditional television set for the first time.

Nielsen Digital Program Ratings uses the same measurement methodology as Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings, which delivers comprehensive, TV-comparable overnight metrics for online advertising campaigns.

The new Nielsen Digital Program Ratings will provide similar overnight audience data, including unique audience, stream counts and reach by age and gender for TV programming viewed online. Together, Nielsen Digital Program Ratings and Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings offer a more holistic view of the online and TV audience for both programming content and associated ad campaigns.

In the beginning, the broadcast networks will use the Nielsen data primarily to track viewership of programs on their own websites. For example, NBC will allow Nielsen to gather usage data for some shows that it streams on in an extension of the measurement.

“The potential to measure video viewing of specific programs on linear TV as well as the Internet is significant,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of Research and Media Development, NBCUniversal. “It’s an important step toward reaching the ‘holy grail’ of true cross-platform measurement.”

Nielsen called the pilot program a major milestone for the television industry.

"As a companion product to Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings, Nielsen Digital Program Ratings will enable clients to better understand the online audience for their programming by harnessing the same methodology Nielsen already uses to measure the audience for related advertising,” said Eric Solomon, SVP for Global Digital Audience Measurement at Nielsen.

The initial focus of the Nielsen Digital Program Ratings pilot will be measurement of TV content viewed online, with additional content types and devices to be supported in future releases. The pilot program will be used to fine-tune Nielsen Digital Program Ratings prior to commercial launch.

Nielsen Digital Program Ratings and Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings use a patent-pending process combining traditional Nielsen TV and online panel data with aggregated, anonymous demographic information from participating online data providers, including Facebook.

Nielsen has been under pressure from broadcasters to update its traditional methods for measuring TV viewing to account for growing digital audiences.

Media companies want to make sure they get full credit with advertisers for online viewing.

While a step in the right direction, the new Nielsen program will not provide all the data that media companies want. For example, while it will track viewing of TV content on computers, it will not extend to tablets and smartphones.

Nielsen also can’t yet provide viewership data in the traditional broadcasts ratings format. Rather, it will provide Web-oriented metrics, including the number of “unique” viewers, plus data on the age and gender of viewers.

Broadcasters want to track their content anywhere it is viewed, including new companies like Aereo, so they can sell ads measuring those viewers.

Nielsen admits the program is only a start and that it will include more features as the technology matures.