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Mobile Ratings Won’t Be a Hit in New TV Season

It's a new TV season for Nielsen, which, like the networks for which it keeps score, is trying to maintain pace with the changing ways consumers are viewing programming.

This season, Nielsen will be able to incorporate mobile viewing on smartphones and tablets into its TV ratings. Media companies, who have seen delayed viewing and consumption via new digital devices increase the erosion of their ratings, have been pushing to have viewing beyond the TV set counted so that it can be monetized.

In the beginning at least, any uptick in ratings thanks to mobile viewing measurement is likely to be small, network executives caution. And ironically, that’s partly because the networks don’t seem to be in any rush to add their mobile viewers to what’s currently included in audience totals.

Cheryl Idell, executive VP of client solutions at Nielsen, says mobile measurement was something clients were asking for, but she adds that “there shouldn’t be an expectation that all of a sudden the ratings look very different, because different content creators and [multichannel video programming distributors] are in a different place in this space,” she says.

Nielsen measures mobile viewing by having programmers and distributors insert into their mobile apps a piece of software that acts as a meter. The meter “hears” the program’s watermark and adds it to the ratings. The rub is that at this point, not all programmers and distributors have added the meter to their apps.

Another sticking point is that in order to be counted in the TV numbers, the digital version of a program must be the same as the broadcast version—including the same commercial load and roster of advertisers. Most networks are selling digital commercials separately from their TV ads and in many cases are getting higher prices online, so they’re reluctant to jump to a TV-sized load of spots on their full-episode players.

And some networks, asking not to be identified, said they were content for now to let Nielsen count mobile viewing in its online campaign ratings— which are used to sell ads to online advertisers—but not add it to C3 and C7.

Idell declined to say which networks are up and running on mobile meters at the season’s start, but would confirm that not all of the Big 4 broadcasters have enabled Nielsen to count mobile viewing.

“We have some apps that are in the app store already with the ability to measure for mobile TV ratings. We have many other clients that are at different stages of testing apps, embedding the meter into their apps. We have some clients that are getting tested and starting to see the data,” Idell says. “So this will be much more of a sort of rolling wave of data that gets turned on as different clients are ready to turn that data on and include it in the TV ratings.”

That would appear to set up a race in which some competitors are out on the track running while others are still putting on their shoes.

Should one network appear to be picking up a few tenths of a ratings point because of heaving mobile viewing, that would likely make the other networks hustle a bit more to get their apps enabled. Based on early evaluation numbers, however, “we think the imperative isn’t that strong,” one network executive says.

Idell says networks that aren’t incorporating digital viewing into C3 and C7 are monetizing those eyeballs in different ways. “They’re choosing a different model. If they’re doing dynamic ad insertion, they are monetizing those audiences, they’re counting them in our digital program ratings, it just doesn’t roll into the TV ratings that are traditionally reported.”

Idell says that after mobile viewing is rolled into traditional TV ratings, the next step is cross-platform ratings that combine all TV, digital and mobile ratings in a way that helps marketers evaluate all the components of their ad campaign. One network executive says it would be great to eventually have one number that measures the popularity of a program. Nielsen hasn’t set a date for cross program ratings, but TV execs expect to see it in 2015.

After that? Idell says its TV clients want over-thetop platforms measured. And then they can figure out how to measure wearable, like Google Glass and Apple’s watch.


While mobile ratings are moving in low gear, developments on the measurement front multiplied last week. Simulmedia announced it is working with Nielsen to gauge the audience of cable networks currently unmeasured by the company.

The alliance moves in an area already occupied by Nielsen rival Rentrak, which has been providing some audience metrics to smaller networks who can’t afford Nielsen rates. Like Rentrak, Simulmedia will be incorporating numbers from set-top box data, in addition to information from Nielsen’s People Meter panel.

“In our work, we have found valuable blocks of audiences watching programs that may be under the radar of many network TV buyers,” says Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia. “This research will surface both the value of these networks and their audiences to brands, and the cost effectiveness of working with them to reach attractive consumers and achieve positive business outcomes.”

Meanwhile, AT&T says its AdWorks unit is working with comScore to measure the effectiveness of advertisers’ cross-media campaigns.

The new service allows marketers to measure how TV ads impact in-store purchase behavior and how much traffic they drive to websites.

“Our clients will be able to determine the effectiveness of their AT&T U-Verse TV advertising based on a lift in sales or increased Web traffic,” says Mike Welch, president of AT&T AdWorks.