The TV industry has long argued that reports of huge audiences for Facebook and YouTube don't tell the whole story. Now a TV trade group is proposing metrics that it says would put digital on the same footing as networks for the first time.
The Video Advertising Bureau, whose members include TV networks and pay-TV companies, is recommending that observers and advertisers use average audiences as the standard to compare traditional and digital platforms.
"This is how TV has been evaluated for decades," said Adam Gerber, senior VP-client development and communications, ABC. "It the only fair way to make comparisons across channels."
Average audience takes into consideration measurements that are applicable across media and available to subscribers to ComScore and Nielsen: unique audience, average minutes per visitor and total minutes. It is calculated by first multiplying the unique audience by its average minutes, then dividing by the total minutes in the time period being considered.
The number of people consuming content or on a platform in an average minute is more relevant than, for example, the number of video streams of unspecified duration, according to the VAB.
Using average audience, the VAB set out to put into perspective several claims made in the past year by digital publishers.
The catalyst for the bureau's research on the subject, now published under the title "Any Given Minute," was Yahoo's first live stream of a National Football League game in October. Yahoo said 15.2 million unique visitors watched the game, generating suggestions that digital media can attract the same viewership as traditional broadcast TV.
But when you break the numbers down into TV terms, the average audience amounts to a more modest 2.4 million viewers.
Then there's the perception that late-night talk show hosts such as Jimmy Fallon draw larger audiences in social media than on their actual shows, a sense perpetuated by comparisons between online views and TV's average audience ratings.
But the average audience for NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in December was 3.4 million on TV and 2.6 million on Facebook, according to the VAB study.
When putting TV up against 20 popular websites, including Facebook, Pandora and YouTube, TV accounts for 72% of adult audiences in any given minute, according to VAB. Facebook accounts for 10%, and Pandora and YouTube account for 5% each.
In any given minute, TV accounts for 95% of video consumption for all adults, compared to just 1% on smartphone and 4% on PCs, the VAB research found. For millennials, it's 88% on TV, 2% on tablets, 2% on smartphones and 8% on PCs.
The average 18-to-34-year-old audience watching TV on both linear and on TV brands' platforms is about 5.3 million, compared with 1.8 million in the demo on Facebook in any given minute, 1.3 million on Pandora and 1 million on YouTube.
And Facebook would be the only digital platform that would even rank within the top 200 TV programs on ad-supported TV. Even excluding TV's high-rated sports programming, Facebook would rank 112th, with an average audience of 4.4 million. With sports included, it would rank 158th.
If Facebook were a TV program, it would be comparable to NBC's "The Today Show," which also averages about 4.4 million viewers, according to the VAB. Pandora would be comparable to ABC's "General Hospital" with 2.7 million viewers, and YouTube would be on par with Fox News' "The Five," with 2.4 million.