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A Look Into What’s Next in Television Measurement

4 minute read | February 2017

One would think that after nearly a century of technical developments, the rate of innovation in the television industry would show signs of slowing down. But it’s quite the opposite: consumers are quickly gaining more choice, flexibility and control over the television programming they watch every day; program executives have new ways to reach fans; and advertisers have tools to reach consumers more effectively than ever before.

On the measurement side, this new world of television is more complex than it’s ever been, and it requires a measurement infrastructure that can not only cover a wide variety of new technical configurations to meet today’s needs, but also evolve rapidly with the times.

“When we developed the Nielsen Total Audience concept, our aim was to address the complexity of cross-platform distribution in the marketplace and provide our clients with reliable metrics to understand their total audience,” notes Megan Clarken, President of Product Leadership at Nielsen.

“The technical infrastructure we’ve built to measure video is comprehensive, and it allows us to measure audiences everywhere. It’s an ongoing challenge to measure new platforms and know when the right time is to introduce change to the currency in a way that doesn’t disrupt trade,” Clarken continues. “Thankfully, we have a team of hundreds of dedicated client business partners, product experts, engineers and data scientists around the world that we can rely on to stay ahead of the curve and manage change. They work as a team, and they’re the reason why we’re so confident in the ongoing solutions and service that we provide to our industry.”

To showcase the technical and methodological measurement work happening around the company, we launched an important new publication last year, the Nielsen Journal of Measurement. Today, we’re releasing the third installment of that publication, and its first paper dives straight into the modern TV measurement infrastructure that Clarken is referencing.

“To produce TV ratings today, we need to account for every new device, content delivery mechanism and advertising model, analyze massive amounts of data, and devise reliable systems to calibrate that data,” says Arun Ramaswamy, Chief Engineer at Nielsen and the author of that first paper. “After years of scientific research and innovation, we put together a modular framework that’s allowing us to see the big picture and meet the challenges of today’s media fragmentation. It’s based on census and panel data (one doesn’t go without the other), and it provides a very robust foundation for the future of television research at Nielsen.”

In a second paper, we examine how this modern measurement infrastructure is allowing us to compare viewing patterns between traditional linear television and over-the-top (OTT) television—specifically, similarities and differences in co-viewing activity. Co-viewing is an important research topic: television watching has traditionally been a social activity (something we often do as a family unit), but the increasing use of small screens (laptops, smartphones and tablets) to watch video content is transforming that experience. Are OTT devices reversing that trend? Nielsen data scientists Kumar Rao, Kamer Yildiz and Molly Poppie make use of recent ad impression data from Roku, one of Nielsen’s most progressive partners, to try and answer that question.

Finally, in a third paper, we’re exploring innovative methods developed by our data scientists to predict future ratings based on historical data. The practical implications are evident and far-reaching: With most TV advertising still bought at “upfront” events well ahead of schedule, any improvement in predictive accuracy can bring substantial financial benefits to advertisers and media companies. Co-authors Scott Sereday and Jingsong Cui introduce us to the work they’ve done on behalf of a Nielsen client and describe how that process might be expanded to benefit the industry as a whole.

“Producing currency quality ratings measurement is at the core of what we do at Nielsen,” Clarken adds. “The measurement is not only used to provide accountability for trade, it provides valuable insight into consumer consumption trends which helps us shape the future.”

For a look at what’s next and some of the groundbreaking work Nielsen is doing in market research today, check out Volume 1, Issue 3 of the Nielsen Journal of Measurement.