VAB Offers Fair Way to Compare TV and Digital

Comparing traditional TV with digital has long been tricky. While data about digital seems more direct and accurate, measurements like unique users and minutes viewed are like oranges compared to TV's audience of apples.

While measurement companies Nielsen and comScore compete to construct a cross-platform ratings regime that works, the Video Advertising Bureau, which represents broadcast and cable TV, has come up with a formula it says provides an accurate snapshot of the number of people using TV versus those using Facebook.

VAB’s solution is average audience per minute, which takes into account reach, frequency and time spent, the factors that are important to advertisers. VAB multiplies unique audience by average minutes viewed per visitor to get total minutes viewed. Then it divides by total minutes in the time period to get an average audience.

Using this formula, the VAB says TV’s audience in any minute averages 45.4 million people, topping 12.7 million for smartphones and 9 million for PCs.

TV accounts for 95% of video consumption among adults and 88% among those pesky, cord-cutting millennials. TV as a whole beats Facebook 7 to 1, Pandora 15 to 1 and YouTube 15 to 1 among adults, according to the VAB.

In terms of average audience, Facebook’s average audience of 4.4 million viewers would rank it as the 158th most viewed TV program among adults. Even among millennials, Facebook would rank 27th.

CBS’ top rated comedy The Big Bang Theory has an average audience of 18.5 million. Its high rated drama NCIS has an average audience of 15.1 million viewers.

Facebook’s average audience would put it on par with NBC’s Today show. Pandora’s average audience among adults was 2.1 million, or about the same as General Hospital on ABC. YouTube was 2.1 million, close to Fox News’ The Five, and Google was 930,000, which stacks up with HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters.

The VAB’s report comes the week before the NewFronts, when digital video companies aim to impress media buyers, and three weeks before the broadcasters and big cable networks make their upfront presentations.

Digital media has been gaining a larger share of ad dollars.

“To do cross-media investment, advertisers need cross-media clarity. Since even the industry standard measurement sources cannot be equated directly, it’s imperative that advertisers adopt for themselves a single standard that can effectively compare the scale of audience commitment across all media,” the VAB said.

Average audience “provides a universal snapshot of relative audience scale at any given moment in time. Most importantly, it means the same things across all media. So it establishes a common currency that can support media for the modern world.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.