Nielsen Explains How It’s Adapting to the Rise of Online Video

Ap Photo/The Daily Sentinel, Andrew D. Brosig

Nielsen has been a controversial character on this year’s upfront stages.

At ratings-challenged MTV’s upfront last month, it was the villain, decried as “that old measuring system that the industry uses” which “doesn’t understand what a tablet is or how to watch something on a phone.” But as the broadcast networks and big cable players like Turner Broadcasting have made their pitches to advertisers this week, the theme has been their new digital-like audience-targeting capabilities –many of which happen to use Nielsen products like Nielsen Catalina Solutions or Nielsen Buyer Insights.

In short, for all the flak Nielsen has caught from the television world as ratings decline across the industry lately, TV networks are buying more stuff from Nielsen than ever.

CMO Today caught up with Nielsen Global President Steve Hasker to talk about the company’s role in the upfronts, the NewFronts and the movement of money from TV to the Web. We also got an update on its efforts to be able to measure TV viewing everywhere. (This interview has been edited for clarity.)

I have to start with your take on the deal of the week, Verion’s purchase of AOL . AOL was Nielsen’s original partner for Online Campaign Ratings, since renamed Digital Ad Ratings. What was the impact of that deal two years ago on the movement of television money into video?

The significance of the AOL move two years ago was that they were the first publisher to offer guarantees – guaranteed audiences against Nielsen ratings – which at the time was OCR, now DAR. That was huge at the time because previously digital metrics, be they from Nielsen or anyone else, were sort of interesting guideposts and analytic tools. Nobody was actually being held accountable. Tim [Armstrong] and his team said, “No, we are going to be held accountable.” What that did was put them on more of a level footing with the TV networks and the TV ecosystem, and I think it’s been beneficial to their business.

So how much of the video inventory out there is sold using DAR today?

I don’t have a percentage, but I would say that it’s sizeable. The reason I say that is that at the recent NewFronts, we had everyone from Maker Studios to Brightroll to YouTube to Vevo to Crackle to AOL talking about Nielsen ratings, and talking about offering accountability and guarantees in different flavors against Nielsen ratings.  The majority of professionally produced content that is being produced, aggregated and sponsored by the leading digital media companies are using Nielsen’s ratings as a core pillar of their ad sales strategy.

At its NewFront this year, Maker Studios announced a new media buying platform, via a partnership with Web video analytics firm OpenSlate, that lets advertisers buy any YouTube inventory using Nielsen’s DAR audience guarantees. What role does DAR play on YouTube generally these days?

Basically what they are doing is putting a whole new level of confidence in the minds of advertisers and the delivery of an audience to their content on YouTube. A couple of years ago, YouTube started accepting DAR tags and submitting their audience to third-party measurement from us. We’ve seen good growth in the volume of that product as it pertains to YouTube.

At the Crackle upfront, I was interested to hear them announce that they would be the first streaming video channel to be Nielsen measured on streaming video players like Rokus. Why were these devices such a challenge for Nielsen to measure previously?

Because, in a sense, it’s a new form of distribution, or newer form of distribution, particularly for ad-supported content. And secondly, you’ve got to have a measurement system that is both accurate and scalable, and so the announcement we made with Roku two weeks ago is the first of what we hope will be many opportunities to embed our metering software in the underlying device to make the measurement seamless and ubiquitous.

A lot of media companies have pitched themselves to advertisers at their upfronts this week saying that for the first time this year, they can deliver a lot of the types of audience-targeting capabilities traditionally associated with digital advertising. What has changed in the last year that makes this targeting possible, and what role has Nielsen played in their pitches?

A couple things have changed from their point of view. In many cases, the data to offer some of these new metrics and new forms of accountability have become available. Secondly, they are finding themselves competing in an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace, and that competition includes big digital publishers with their own first-party data sets and access to Nielsen measurement. So their response has been a very proactive and innovative one. As we went through this week, what you saw was that we worked with all of our major broadcast partners to provide data such as Nielsen Buyer Insights into their upfront presentations. What we are trying to do is broaden their conversation with advertisers and provide more insight on not only who is watching their programs, but what the behavior of those people is.

But things like Nielsen Catalina and Nielsen Buyer Insights obviously have competitors from the likes of Simulmedia and Rentrak. You don’t really own that market in the same way you own the television ratings market, do you?

That’s fair to say. We don’t. The thing to remember, though, is the basis of any of these measures is a statistically representative view on media exposure, so you have to start with who saw the program or who saw the commercial. We have a strong conviction that we are best placed to be the industry’s provider of that data.

There has been some Nielsen bashing at this season’s upfront, and there may well be more before we’re all done. Just to be clear, what is it that you can measure right now, what can you not measure, and what is a work in progress, in terms of video content?

We can measure live and time-shifted TV. We can measure ad-supported VOD and we can measure mobile viewing of video ads. The pieces that we are in the process of adding are, firstly, over-the-top viewing, which will be accelerated so that by the end of the year we will be able to include over-the-top viewing in ways that our clients demand. The second is the launch in September of the Digital Content Ratings, in partnership with Adobe. That will measure not only ad viewership, but viewership of the program. Media companies will be able represent the total audience of a particular program, no matter how it is viewed, by whom or on what platform or device.

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