Digital Measurement Is About To Flip TV On Its Head

According to the Wall Street Journal (as reported by Adweek), Nielsen will be rolling out Nielsen Digital Program Ratings  “which will measure audiences for TV content viewed online. A+E, ABC, AOL, CBS, The CW, Discovery Communications, FOX, NBC and Univision have all signed on to participate in this test, which will begin in May and run through July.” And, according to Eric Solomon, senior vice president for Global Digital Audience Measurement at Nielsen, the company plans to cover mobile devices in future releases.

Adweek notes: “Nielsen Digital Program Ratings will track views primarily on the networks’ own desktop websites, with additional coverage for mobile devices planned for the future. The Digital Program Ratings will provide overnight data such as the number of unique viewers, stream counts and reach by age and gender.”

Nielsen may have been slow to adjust to the shifts in consumer behavior brought about by DVRs, Social Networks, mobile and online viewing, but they are now catching up. They’ve rolled out Online Campaign Ratings “for brands that want to more effectively measure digital campaigns;” in February they started to measure broadband viewership; and they’ve introduced a Twitter Ratings System via their acquisition of SocialGuide.

I think it’s entirely possible that the television* industry is going to experience a new reality not unlike that which the music industry experienced when it started to update its measurement methods. First, Soundscan brought a level of accuracy to the industry that was woefully missing.  Now take a look at what Billboard charts track now: On-Demand Songs, Digital Songs, Steaming Songs and Ringtones just to name a few. That’s how Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” becomes the Number 1 song in the country without major label distribution.

How will this ability to more accurately track viewership, across multiple platforms, affect content? If I were a programmer I’d be looking to create snack-size programming. I’d experiment with 15 and maybe even 10 minute shows. A really innovative programmer might take a page from the independent comics I loved as a kid: A 40-page main story and then an 8-page teaser for a new character that was being developed.

Think about that for a second. What if you extended a 30-minute sitcom to 35-40 minutes, then aired a 10-15 minute ‘mini-show.’ Let that mini-show develop over four or five weeks, see what kind of viewership it’s gaining on mobile devices and then roll it out in the fall as a full-fledged show. That has to be better than the current strategy most networks use.

I think you could also see ‘mobile first’ content that may be supplemental content to a main show. If you’ve got 10 minutes to kill, would you watch a little vignette that features your favorite secondary character from a hit show as the star of their own 10-minute piece? Of course you would! And networks could probably get interesting directors and guest stars for these mini-shows as well. Once they see the audience is there, they’ll be able to sell brands on sponsoring this content via product integration or hosting it as part of a 2nd Screen play.

Brad Barket/Getty Images for Hulu

Brad Barket/Getty Images for Hulu

There are probably a dozen more possible innovations in format that we’ll see as measurement becomes more precise and covers more platforms, but the net result could be an explosion in original content customized for various screens and featuring new angles on your favorite shows. That’s a future I can get behind. For more on what’s happening on the digital programming front, read this piece on Hulu’s plans from The New York Times.


*Television is becoming an increasingly inappropriate term to use. But “video content” connotes a certain sterility which I don’t much care for. What term should we use to refer to all the types of shows, from all the different distributors, on all the different platforms? Perhaps it is all ‘programming?’