TV Viewership Battle Brews Between Nielsen and Competitors

Photo by Fran Jacquier via Unsplash

TV Viewership Battle Brews Between Nielsen and Competitors

By Movieguide® Contributor

Before Nielsen announced the number of Super Bowl viewers this year, measurement startup iSpot beat it to the punch.

“In the early afternoon hours of Feb. 12, iSpot, one of a handful of audience-measurement upstarts that are vying for business from many of Nielsen’s top clients, issued ‘preliminary audience measurement estimates’ for Super Bowl viewership, projecting the Big Game had lured more than 126.6 million viewers across TV, linear, streaming and out of home watching,” Variety reported. “Nielsen didn’t issue its estimate — more than 123.4 million viewers across linear and streaming — until well into the evening.”

Movieguide reported on Nielsen’s statistics on March 21:

“Americans spent more time with their TV sets on Super Bowl Sunday than any day in the past three years,” The Hollywood Reporter said.

“On Feb. 11, viewers in the United States spent a collective 111 billion minutes watching TV — fueled, obviously, by Super Bowl 58’s record-breaking audience of more than 123 million viewers across all platforms,” The Hollywood Reporter said. “That’s the highest single-day viewing tally since Nielsen began tracking total TV usage in May 2021. With a running time of just over four hours, the Super Bowl totaled about 30.4 billion minutes of viewing on its own, and post-game coverage on CBS tallied 2.15 billion more minutes.”

In the spirit of business competition, iSpot intentionally reported the numbers before Nielsen did.

“The skirmish illustrates the heightened tension and stakes for the industry as it grapples with changing audience-measurement protocols,” Variety notes. “Indeed, the drama on YELLOWSTONE and GAME OF THRONES is no match for the battle the entire TV business is waging to control how the medium is measured.”

“Companies such as iSpot and rivals including VideoAmp, Comscore and Luminate (owned by Variety parent company PMC) all want to take at least some of the millions of dollars media companies like Disney, NBCUniversal or Paramount Global pay to Nielsen each year,” Variety continued. “Meanwhile, Nielsen is poised to roll out new tabulation systems, like Nielsen One, that will count audiences for video as they traverse from linear to streaming and from one type of screen to another one.”

Measurement companies have found other ways to compete with Nielsen. Variety notes that they’ve come up with means to get different kinds of data, such as niche consumer data, which is critically important to major media and TV companies.

Variety said, “Forging a few new media yardsticks may also help the sector wring new cash flow as well. Measurement is ‘one of the few levers’ that companies like Paramount or Warner Bros. Discovery ‘can pull to actually increase revenue,’ says Peter Liguori, the former FX network chief and Tribune CEO who was recently named chairman of VideoAmp.”

“If media companies can get more precise about who is watching, there is hope advertisers will be more willing to pay higher rates because they will reach more of their most likely customers,” Variety said.

However, Nielsen, fully aware of their competitors, recently launched Nielsen ONE, a “cross-media” measurement platform.

“Nielsen ONE delivers deduplicated, cross-media measurement in one place, letting publishers and platforms know exactly who’s watching and giving media buyers the power to plan, optimize and measure campaigns with confidence.” Nielsen’s website says.

However, with the new launch came hesitation from current Nielsen clients. Nielsen had planned to drop its current platforms, C3 and C7, but its clients weren’t pleased.

“Where we mistepped is saying we will take away this other thing,” Deirdre Thomas, Nielsen’s chief product officer, told Variety. “…Admittedly, we have been behind, but we are not anymore.”

“Even as TV networks and measurement start-ups vie for new business, it seems clear that what they count may be in flux,” Variety said. “More marketers are placing new emphasis not on delivering mass audience impressions for their commercials, but tangible evidence that the people who saw the ads were spurred to take action, like visiting an auto showroom or buying a movie ticket.”

iSpot’s senior VP of media partnerships says that these direct “business impacts” will soon take “center stage.”

“When the media and advertising industries tried to change the currency of the industry from basic Nielsen measures to so-called ‘commercial ratings,’ they sparked a process that took at least two years to complete. Now they have one in place that will take significantly longer. Determining the winner will take years and millions of dollars,” Variety said. “The struggle to capture the measurement market, says Comscore’s Bagdasarian, ‘is really more of a marathon.'”

However, Variety shared an article on Mar. 21, the same day that released the article about iSpot and Nielsen’s Super Bowl numbers, saying that Netflix and Fox made a successful ad that didn’t consider ratings at all.

“In November, Fox ran a two-minute-long segment during its Sunday-afternoon NFL showcase — one of the most-watched programs on TV,” Variety reported. “After one of Fox’s announcers told the audience to stay tuned for a special segment, viewers saw former New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman having a conversation with film director Zack Snyder. With the help of augmented reality technology, the filmmaker quickly ushered the athlete into the world of REBEL MOON, the sci-fi epic Snyder wrote and directed that was released on Netflix late last year.”

“What audiences weren’t told is that the vignette was an experiment of sorts conducted by Netflix and its media buying agency, Interpublic Group’s Mediahub with Fox’s cooperation,” Variety continued. “The goal was to see if Fox could prove the ad worked based not on the typical promises of Nielsen estimates of how many people saw it, but rather on a guarantee of social-media activity spurred by the unique segment.”

The results were better than the companies expected, as the ad received four times more social interactions than anticipated.

Quality: - Content: +2
Quality: - Content: +3