TV Execs Push to Include Out-of-Home Viewing in Ratings

Local TV station executives are increasingly aware that viewers watch content on all kinds of devices. Accordingly, NBCUniversal and Hearst have stopped using traditional ratings and switched to total viewer impressions, which will count all the ways a show is viewed. Other local TV groups vowed to do the same by 2020. At the same time, national TV executives also plan to add in those who view shows outside the home, in offices, hotels and the like, into final ratings. Nielsen has long dominated ratings of linear TV viewership.

Variety reports, as Omnicom Media Group chief research officer Jonathan Steuer puts it, “the systems in place to calibrate couch-potato activity no longer meet the demands of the marketplace.” “We are piloting interplanetary travel with a tachometer and a speedometer and a steering wheel that only moves 30 degrees in either direction, which isn’t really helpful,” he said.

Nielsen’s system “can tell advertisers how many people are watching linearly, and then break that large mass into smaller chunks based on age, gender and other qualifying attributes.” But today’s audiences are much harder to track as they no longer “crowd in front of a big living-room screen.”

Advertisers have long gravitated to TV for “the biggest audiences possible” — and they still do. For Super Bowl LIV, for example, FOX “is seeking $5.5 million for a package of inventory tied to the game.”

But marketers also realize that “smaller pockets of viewers can have value as well, if media outlets can carve them out properly.” They’re turning to programmatic technology to find specific demographic slices such as “first-time car buyers, likely moviegoers and expectant mothers” and so on. Nielsen estimated that 11 percent of the total audience for sports and 7 percent of news comes from out-of-home viewing.

Even as TV executives push that these viewers be counted, “advertisers will no doubt push back,” questioning if watching a TV show in a doctor’s office or watching news without sound in a restaurant is equal in value to traditional living room views.

Variety notes that, “in some cases, TV networks in this year’s upfront market offered more favorable pricing terms to agencies that accepted some out-of-home measures.” But, said Steuer, “the tools have to be built.” “You have to find money and motivation and software providers to help make that change,” he said.