Nielsen has told the Federal Communications Commission it is working on a product to analyze "behind the camera" as well as on-screen diversity that could give the agency most of the information it may be looking for without making programmers and distributors, including streamers owned by media companies with FCC licenses, have to certify that information.
Nielsen said it is already working on such an offering because advertisers want to ensure they are "investing equitably in content that includes diverse creators, casts and themes."
Earlier this year, Fuse Media led groups petitioning the FCC to collect content diversity data, including from those co-owned streaming services. They argued the regulator's failure to "regularly collect and report on data regarding the demographic diversity of vendors providing one of the most critical inputs to the video marketplace: content" did not square with its charge to promote competition and diversity in the video marketplace.
Program distributors of all stripes have pushed back on the petition, which the FCC is still considering. They say, among other things, that there are no market failures the new collection and certification requirements would necessitate, that the FCC likely does not have the authority to mandate data collection from third-party vendors and more.
Internet-service providers have also said if the FCC does start putting this mandate on streaming services affiliated with its licensees — Disney Plus, Hulu, Peacock and Paramount Plus — but not on unaffiliated streamers like Netflix, Apple TV Plus or Amazon Prime Video, the FCC certainly won't be getting the view of the marketplace it is looking for.
Enter Nielsen, which has told the FCC it may have a solution if the commission does grant the petition, and from products it says are already in the marketplace using information gleaned from its metadata subsidiary, Gracenote.
"When operationalized, this new product could enable Nielsen customers and the FCC to obtain much of the data sought by petitioners — without the need for certifications from programmers or distributors," Nielsen told the FCC, according to a document filed with the commission.
While Nielsen said it could help with diversity data collection across various distribution platforms, it used the challenge faced by streamers as an example.
"[A] streaming service acquires the rights to transmit thousands of programs from hundreds of sources," Nielsen said. "These programs, in turn, have tens of thousands of individual episodes — each of which, in turn, has a budget, location and associated talent such as a producer, a director, numerous actors and so on."
Gracenote already helps thousands of companies "gather, compile, check, analyze, and organize" all that data, Nielsen said, so it could be "a powerful tool for measuring and analyzing on-screen diversity and inclusion."
Nielsen said it can already say that Black women have a 57% share of screen time on the HBO show Insecure, and can also compare that to the general population for that show's audience, or that Native Americans make up .05% of total screen time on cable.
Now, Nielsen is working on a new product, using Gracenote metadata, that will provide metrics for off-screen diversity. For example, it could compare the diversity of writers and producers for Amazon Prime Video fantasy series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power with those of HBO's Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon. That's just the sort of information "contemplated in the [Fuse] petition," it points out, "without any of the complexity" of making FCC-regulated companies with streaming services have to obtain such diversity data from programmers and file it with the agency. ■
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.