Nielsen Updating Its Ratings System for a World of Streaming

Nielsen Updating Its Ratings System for a World of Streaming
Image: Wonder Woman 1984/WarnerMedia

Nielsen, the primary authority trusted to track TV ratings, announced on Monday that it’s undertaking a major overhaul to its system to better integrate programming across platforms. Coming at a time when all filmmaking is becoming TV, the change will likely be music to the ears of advertisers but could face resistance from subscription streaming services.

The ratings giant said in a statement that the Nielsen One platform will be phased in beginning in 2022 and is planned to replace its current measurement approach entirely by 2024. Nielsen will still use its panels system to monitor the viewership of groups of people as a representative sample of overall viewership, but it will implement new proprietary tech and form partnerships to track TV, CTV, mobile devices, and computers to create a mega-metric for content and ads.

Linear TV has lagged behind Netflix and YouTube when it comes to tracking every second of time watched at a granular level, and the problem has been complicated as the platform landscape has fragmented. Nielsen claims it’ll be able to unify the viewership data from a program that simultaneously plays on FX, Hulu, Prime, and Apple TV. Well, it’s at least going to try.

Platforms that are supported by advertising will likely be interested in Nielsen’s new approach and its ability to deliver much more granular data than the basic number of viewers, age, and gender. Nielsen says it hopes to be able to track ads individually and inform a sponsor of the exact viewership a commercial received in the middle of a program on CBS as well as in a YouTube pre-roll. It also intends to track targeted commercials per household as smart TVs gradually make an individualized ad experience possible.

But Nielsen already has a deal with YouTube. Companies like Netflix and Disney are more protective of their viewership data, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll want to play ball. The company told TechCrunch that it already has data-sharing agreements with Amazon, Hulu, Roku, Vizio, and Google/YouTube.

On one hand, this is an inevitable development in our data-fied hellscape of entertainment-surveillance. On the other hand, we’re witnessing a major upheaval in a film industry that’s been hit hard by the global pandemic, and it would be nice if the walled garden services were more transparent with their ratings. Warner Bros recently announced its entire 2021 slate of films will go to HBO Max at the same time as theatres. If this is the future, talent will need to know how their work performs in order to properly negotiate deals. Following a merger frenzy in the last few years, media power is concentrated in the hands of a few and creators are going to get tired of being left in the dark.