Nielsen's new media push

Nielsen is changing the way it measures TV shows to reflect new technologies and expanding beyond TV audience measurement into streaming video, social media, mobile and video games.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
3 min read

Everyone knows Nielsen as the company that measures how many people are glued to their TV sets watching news and sitcoms for what is called Fall Sweeps. The numbers can make or break a new show.

With eyeballs increasingly turning to PCs and mobile devices for entertainment and news, Nielsen is boosting its audience measurement services in those areas.

"For television, we measure video wherever it goes," on TV sets or over the Internet to PCs, Susan Whiting, chairman of Nielsen Media Research, said in a recent interview. "More broadly, we measure all kinds of consumer behavior around media."

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She had some interesting things to say about Internet and television habits that are worth sharing, and then I'll get to the information about Nielsen's transformation into a new media measurement giant.

The ability to dissect an audience and target a message by geography and demographic is changing the way programming is getting measured, even on traditional TV, Whiting says. For the first time, television ads are being sold based on the ratings down to the commercial minutes as opposed to the entire program. Nielsen is measuring not only how many people watch the programs, but how many watch the ads.

And contrary to popular belief, TiVo has not killed off the TV ad industry, according to Whiting. Because so many people watch their TV programs through TiVo and other digital video recorders, Nielsen is measuring the viewing audience of new Fall TV shows for seven days, instead of just broadcast night. This will catch not only the people who watch the initial broadcast, but also the people who recorded it to watch anytime within the week.

Despite all the YouTube-mania, people are still watching more TV than ever. The average U.S. household watches 8 hours and 14 minutes per day, Whiting says. That's because there are multiple TVs in most homes--2.8 TVs per household and only 2.5 people per household, on average.

Nielsen is looking to extend its reach beyond the TV into measuring audience size and even attitude in the online realm. Here's what they are doing:

  • This fall, Nielsen's NetRatings unit is measuring the audience for streaming video on PCs and testing the measurement of video viewing on mobile devices. Its Telephia unit, acquired this year, also monitors the purchase of music and ringtone downloads.
  • Nielsen also this year acquired BuzzMetrics, which monitors the buzz on topics being written about on blogs and analyzes whether the references are positive or negative. Companies can use BuzzMetrics to see what bloggers and their readers are saying about their brand or products.
  • Nielsen also is riding the social media wave, recently launching a Web site called "Hey Nielsen.com," where people can "talk" about TV programs, music and movies. The company provides that feedback to the studios, record labels and other content producers as a supplement to the quantifiable audience measurement data.
  • Nielsen also measures video games, as well as music airplay on radio and CD sales for the recording industry.
  • And its Nielsen/NetRatings division is one of the top Web site audience measurement firms. NetRatings recently changed the way it measures which sites are the most popular by ranking sites not just on how many unique visitors they get but also how long people stay on the site.