Nielsen Unveils The Gauge, a Metric for Streaming Platforms

Global research firm Nielsen has unveiled The Gauge, a new metric for measuring monthly total TV and streaming audiences. The company revealed that, in May 2021, 64 percent of the time U.S. viewers watched content via network and cable TV and 26 percent of the time watched via streaming services. Another 9 percent of the time, they used their TV screens for content recorded on DVRs or playing video games. Nielsen added that streaming was at 20 percent last year and 14 percent in 2019 and that its share could go up to 33 percent by the end of 2021.

The New York Times reports that, “Netflix and YouTube are the streaming leaders … with each capturing 6 percent of total TV time … trailed by Hulu (3 percent), Amazon (2 percent) and Disney+ (1 percent).”

The Gauge is an addition to Nielsen’s existing method of measuring “how many people are watching streaming platforms, which relies on audio-recognition software included in Nielsen devices that are now in 38,000 households across the country.” It is worth noting that “both metrics measure only what is viewed on television screens and do not count what is watched on phones or laptops.”

At Netflix, which criticized Nielsen’s previous efforts to rate streaming audiences, co-chief executive Reed Hastings said that, with The Gauge, Nielsen is “in a good place to referee or score-keep how streaming is changing the U.S. television landscape.” Hastings said he was “surprised” that linear TV still dominates but noted that, “it’s kind of obvious there’s a time frame over which streaming takes over linear … at 6 percent per year, it’s not going to be long.”

Netflix has “long resisted attempts by outside firms to estimate its viewership data … [and] Hastings did not endorse Nielsen’s pre-existing TV streaming series ratings.” For The Gauge, “Nielsen measured about 14,000 households through a piece of hardware that observes Internet traffic that passes through a router.”

Now, linear media companies are criticizing Nielsen for undercounting their audiences, with Discovery chief executive David Zaslav calling its reporting methods “antiquated.”

LightShed Partners media analyst Rich Greenfield noted that Netflix approves of Nielsen’s new ratings because it “shows that the platform, along with YouTube, is the streaming leader.” But Nielsen only covers the Top 10 streamers, and Greenfield added that it’s “not the streaming wars if only a few companies dominate — and Netflix is one of them.”

Variety reports Hastings told WarnerMedia chief executive Jason Kilar that, “Nielsen should represent [HBO Max] in its new streaming media data report.” Currently, HBO Max “is not measured as a discrete service in the firm’s streaming estimates, which are based on connected-TV usage.”