As TV consumer habits move away from linear television with live content being available on multiple platforms, accurate viewership measurements are crucial in determining advertising costs. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Nielsen estimates have not been precise in determining the number of viewers streaming live sporting events.
“As the media landscape has shifted, there needs to be an accommodation to accurately measure live audiences watching Sunday Night Football and other live events via virtual MVPDs,” said Joe Brown, senior vice president of research at NBC Sports Group. “There is a significant undercounting due to latency, which could cost broadcasters tens of millions of dollars on the NFL alone over the course of the 2017 season.”
Nielsen differentiates a live viewer and delayed viewer based on a 25 second threshold. If a viewer’s online stream is delayed by 25 seconds or more, they will not be counted toward the rating of that live broadcast.
According to NBC, their November 19th broadcast of Sunday Night Football (Cowboys vs Eagles) had 166,000 live viewers that were not recorded by Nielsen because of a delayed stream. The 166,000 viewers would have increased NBC’s rating by 2%. In comparison, a November 2016 NBC Sunday Night Football broadcast had only 20,000 viewers not counted toward their rating, only 0.3% of their audience. As streaming options become more prominent, recording each viewer is more important.
“As technology continues to advance and more content is streamed, it is imperative that measurement evolves,” said Cary Meyers, head of research at ESPN. “We’re confident Nielsen is making progress on a resolution in the near term.”
In September, ESPN moved to Nielsen’s total live audience ratings to account for streaming viewership. NBC offers advertisers “Total Audience Delivery” which records viewership from linear TV, as well as VOD, OTT and mobile platforms to more accurately depict the audience size of produced content. As networks adjust to changing viewership habits, Nielsen estimates will need to fine-tune as well.