Nielsen is asked for full pic­ture

Net­works say cur­rent ratings don’t re­flect a show’s true pop­u­lar­ity.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Stephen Battaglio

The re­ports of TV’s death are greatly ex­ag­ger­ated, and some peo­ple have blamed the ratings mes­sen­ger — Nielsen.

The num­bers put out by the au­di­ence mea­sure­ment com­pany for what it calls “lin­ear view­ing” — which counts the peo­ple who watch a pro­gram the day it airs — have been on a steady de­cline across broad­cast and many ca­ble net­works in re­cent years.

It has led to fre­quent head­lines that stream­ing ser­vices such as Net­flix are eat­ing tra­di­tional TV’s lunch, es­pe­cially among younger view­ers.

Net­work and ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tives have groused that lin­ear view­ing num­bers no longer re­flect the true pop­u­lar­ity of their pro­grams, which are in­creas­ingly viewed on a de­layed ba­sis, through video on de­mand, stream­ing or DVR play­back.

That was a topic of con­ver­sa­tion through­out the week at the Tele­vi­sion Crit­ics Assn. press tour in Bev­erly Hills.

“I don’t think the broad­cast­ing nar­ra­tive should be lin­ear ver­sus dig­i­tal any­more, but rather lin­ear plus dig­i­tal,” NBC En­ter­tain­ment Chair­man Bob Green­blatt said dur­ing a panel dis­cus­sion. “I would love to get to a point where the live, same-day rat­ing was the prover­bial di­nosaur in­stead of the broad­cast net­work.”

Ex­ec­u­tives from New York-based Nielsen, who ap­peared Fri­day at the press tour, ac­knowl­edged as much. They said they have an­swered the call by net-

works and ad agen­cies to pro­vide “to­tal au­di­ence data” that in­cludes view­ing on In­ter­net-con­nected TV sets, dig­i­tal de­vices and on screens seen out­side the home.

“Nielsen is re­ally thought of as track­ing lin­ear tele­vi­sion,” said Brian Fuhrer, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of prod­uct lead­er­ship for Nielsen. “The fact of the mat­ter is we spend a lot of time with our clients look­ing at ev­ery­thing be­yond tra­di­tional TV.”

Fuhrer noted that 62% of U.S. house­holds — around 73 mil­lion — now have In­ter­net tele­vi­sion de­vices, game con­soles or mul­ti­me­dia de­vices such as Roku, which all can stream video con­tent. In those house­holds, 24% of the TV view­ing time is by 25- to 34-year-olds us­ing over-thetop de­vices.

But much of the con­tent stream­ing view­ers watch is cre­ated by the net­works and their pro­duc­tion stu­dios.

The Nielsen ex­ec­u­tives shared a sam­ple of some of the pro­pri­etary ratings it pro­vides to clients on de­layed view­ing. The data sup­port the net­works’ con­tention that their con­tent is be­ing con­sumed by far more peo­ple than the ini­tial ratings num­bers in­di­cate.

CBS, the most-watched broad­cast net­work, av­er­ages 7.91 mil­lion view­ers a week. The au­di­ence rises 53% to 12.1 mil­lion when view­ing from DVR play­back and video-on-de­mand plat­forms over 35 days are added in. The au­di­ence for CBS’ top sit­com, “The Big Bang The­ory,” grew 66% to 23.2 mil­lion view­ers when those other plat­forms are counted. The net­work’s top new drama se­ries of the past sea­son, “Bull,” saw a 57% boost to 17.9 mil­lion view­ers.

Get­ting paid for those view­ers de­pends on how many peo­ple watch the com­mer­cials across the dif­fer­ent plat­forms. Net­works typ­i­cally make deals with ad­ver­tis­ers for view­ing that oc­curs over three to seven days, but the au­di­ence con­tin­ues to grow af­ter that pe­riod.

Kelly Ab­car­ian, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of prod­uct lead­er­ship for Nielsen, said net­works are us­ing its data mea­sur­ing the view­ing over 35 days “to talk to the ad­ver­tis­ers about the value of their au­di­ences that are not nec­es­sar­ily just there in the three-to-seven-day win­dow.”

Video on de­mand is pro­vid­ing a sig­nif­i­cant lift to shows as well. Fuhrer noted the au­di­ence for the TNT se­ries “Good Be­hav­ior” grows by as much as 50% when VOD view­ers over 90 days are added in.

More net­works are seek­ing Nielsen’s data that mea­sure out-of-home view­ing in places such as res­tau­rants and bars, where peo­ple of­ten gather to watch live sports and news events but are not counted in ratings in­for­ma­tion re­leased to the press.

Nielsen re­ported that broad­cast and ca­ble cov­er­age of the June 6 Se­nate tes­ti­mony by for­mer FBI Direc­tor James Comey was watched by 19.5 mil­lion view­ers. But CNN’s au­di­ence of 1 mil­lion 25- to 54-year-olds for the event, which aired dur­ing a work­day, grew by 17% when Nielsen added outof-home view­ing data.

Ca­ble sports net­works such as ESPN also get a lift when out-of-home view­ing is added in. In the first quar­ter of 2017, out-of-home view­ing gave ca­ble sports net­works a lift of 8% among 18- to 49year-old men.

De­spite progress, Nielsen has a way to go to mea­sure how many peo­ple see a com­mer­cial on a pro­gram that runs across dif­fer­ent dig­i­tal plat­forms.

“We are work­ing with the in­dus­try on how they might like to for­ward that,” Fuhrer said.

Robert Alexan­der Getty Im­ages

NET­WORKS have asked Nielsen for data on view­ers us­ing plat­forms other than tra­di­tional TV. Above, trav­el­ers use de­vices at LaGuardia Air­port in Queens, N.Y.

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