Nielsen to track viewing beyond broadcast platform

In a move that could have major implications for television stations, Nielsen Media Research has announced that it will abandon media viewing measurement by handwritten diaries and expand its tracking to new platforms, including computers, iPods, video game players and mobile phones.

The handwritten diaries, distributed to families in certain markets during sweeps weeks, will completely disappear within five years, Nielsen said.

Through a range of new electronic monitoring methods, Nielsen will begin to track content regardless of platform. Digital technology is driving changes in the way people watch television and is enabling Nielsen to follow them, Gary Holmes, a Nielsen spokesman, told ABC News.

Paper diaries have long been criticized as inaccurate, though the entire advertising-based broadcast industry is shaped by their results. Nielsen's move is an attempt to improve measurement accuracy in a fast changing media landscape.

Called the Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement (A2/M2) initiative, Nielsen said key components of the new system will include in-home television viewing through Active/Passive (A/P) metering technology; measurement of online streaming video as well as the addition of Internet measurement in Nielsen's People Meter samples; and the addition of out-of-home measurement in People Meter samples.

The new system will include the introduction of electronic measurement in all local markets, targeted for 2011. This will require, Nielsen said, the development of new meters to measure video viewed on portable media devices and the creation of new research for measuring viewer “engagement” in TV programming.

Nielsen also is developing meters that track viewing on portable devices and will by year's end have a 400-member iPod user panel in place. That, along with the television and Internet measurements, could provide the first statistical look at the impact of iPod downloads or streaming video on overall television viewing.