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Nielsen Led the Way for Tracking Streaming Data During the Pandemic, But Is It Accurate? 

Photo by Lukas Blazek via Unsplash

Nielsen Led the Way for Tracking Streaming Data During the Pandemic, But Is It Accurate? 

By Movieguide® Staff

Streaming platforms took the entertainment industry by storm during the pandemic, but tracking the success of series and movies released on Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and more proved to be more difficult. 

The absence of traditional ticket sale numbers and little-to-no transparency from prominent streamers attributed to the lack of clarity in streaming numbers. However, the popular data firm Nielsen shed some light on the data with weekly and monthly reports on streaming movies and series.  

The Hollywood Reporter noted

Nielsen, collecting streaming data via a subset of its traditional national panel, has provided some light where there was previously very little: Prior to its inauguration of weekly rankings in summer 2020, hard viewership data for a given title was vanishingly hard to come by. Streamers were loath to share their internal numbers — Netflix’s highlighting of two-minute “view” metrics on a handful of titles each quarter was about as transparent as it got — and they in turn looked askance at what Nielsen put out, saying the limited data was incomplete, or “not even close,” as Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings said in 2017.

However, some are skeptical that Nielsen paints a true and full picture of streaming data. 

One example came after Netflix canceled their superhero series JUPITER’S LEGACY.

THR reported

Netflix canceled Jupiter’s Legacy, the superhero series based on Mark Millar’s comic book, on June 2, four weeks after it premiered. A day later, Nielsen’s weekly rankings of streaming titles — which lag by about a month — showed Jupiter’s Legacy as the No. 1 original series on the service. It repeated that feat, and rose to No. 1 among all titles on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, for the week of May 10-16.

The juxtaposition of the show’s end and the fairly strong viewing figures raises a question: How much insight are the Nielsen numbers really giving into the typically obscured field of streaming measurement?

Another notable limit to Nielsen’s ability to record data is that it only logs data from TVs. Smartphones, Tablets, and even laptops are neglected in Nielsen’s current methodology.  

“There is obviously some value in knowing what’s being watched online, and where. But the value is pretty limited,” EpyllionCo.’s Matthew Ball, a former Amazon Studios executive, said. “When Nielsen rated TV, the broadcast networks all reached the same number of households. In OTT video, some services are several times bigger [than others], and which service streams ‘Show A’ has an enormous impact on the streaming minutes for that show.”

The accuracy of Nielsen’s numbers was also called into question by regular broadcast networks. 

Movieguide® previously reported

Major TV networks called out Nielsen, the company responsible for auditing their audiences, claiming that Nielsen should submit to a third-party audit themselves…

“I am conveying to you in the strongest possible terms the VAB’s profound dissatisfaction and concerns with Nielsen’s handling of our industry’s months-long urging for rightsized remedies to shortfalls in the company’s COVID period TV usage and measurement data,” Sean Cunningham, the CEO of the VAB wrote in a letter to David Kenny, the CEO of Nielsen. 

However, Nielsen has made efforts to assure studios and broadcasters that they are refining their methods of data collection.  

Recently, Movieguide® reported on Nielsen’s newly announced tracker, “The Gauge”:

The popular data firm, responsible for most of the television and streaming data amid the COVID-19 pandemic, released data that shows streamers attracted more viewers than broadcast TV in May 2021.

Nielsen is calling the measurement of streamers and other platforms “The Gauge.”

The largest streaming service Netflix and primary video-sharing site, YouTube, made up 12 percent of Americans’ total time in front of a TV.

Netflix supported Nielsen’s data, telling The New York Times that the firm is “in a good place to referee or score-keep how streaming is changing the U.S. television landscape,” Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings said.