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TV Measurement Comes Up Short

Most Agree the Payment Model Is Broken; They Just Differ on How to Fix It

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When CBS yanked sci-fi drama "Jericho," it was caught off guard by the enormous fan reaction. The network, which eventually agreed to keep the show on the air, hadn't realized that the program had a significant following among viewers who watched it on the web and via DVRs, said Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp.'s chief executive, at a recent event.
CBS was going to cancel 'Jericho' until it realized how many fans had been watching on the web and DVRs.
CBS was going to cancel 'Jericho' until it realized how many fans had been watching on the web and DVRs. Credit: Andrew Cone

What galls him is that those audiences aren't helping networks as much as their executives might like. "Jericho" fans need to "show up on the television," Mr. Moonves scolded. "That's how we get paid."

It's a payment model pretty much all parties involved want to change -- they just can't agree how. The ability of TV ratings king Nielsen Media Research to measure these people as they scamper across a range of media venues won't be fully realized until at least 2011. In the meantime, with $70 billion in total TV spending at stake, the networks are busily trying to prove that their audience numbers haven't dwindled -- they've just splintered into other viewing venues such as DVRs, streaming video and video iPods.

Question of how
Advertisers, on the other hand, argue the issue isn't where audiences are watching but how. The networks "want to add bigger numbers," said Jeffrey Graham, senior VP-strategic research at media buyer Starcom MediaVest Group, but advertisers want more than just an eyeball count. Mobile and online venues are "different environments for consumer advertising," where audiences behave differently. "What's important is not how many people we are adding," he said, but how those audiences recall and interact with the ads.

That hasn't stopped NBC, CBS and others from counting the eyeballs wherever they are. NBC Universal President-Research Alan Wurtzel, realizing the Peacock Network's need to "redefine ourselves beyond the one-dimensional TV rating," developed "Tami," or "total audience measurement index." It purports to show the number of viewers who watch an episode by almost any conceivable means: on the network live or as much as seven days later; on NBC cable outlets such as Sci-Fi Network in the same time frame; by downloading it; by streaming it; or by watching it on a personal computer via use of Intel's Viiv technology.

It is, of course, in the networks' best interest to follow the money. A Tami breakout for five episodes of "Heroes" shown between Jan. 22 and Feb. 19 found that the number of people watching the original broadcast-TV episode live or as much as seven days later as calculated by Nielsen dipped nearly 6% over the period -- to about 15.1 million from about 16 million. Meanwhile, the number of streaming-video viewers as calculated by Omniture rose 31.7% -- to nearly 2 million from 1.5 million.

San Mateo, Calif.-based Integrated Media Measurement, also found that on average, 7% of people watch NBC's "Friday Night Lights" on the web first without seeing the show on TV; the number is 11% for "30 Rock" and 9% for "Heroes."

Analysis across media
CBS, too, expects to offer advertisers analysis of program exposure and audience behavior across different media, said Patrick Keane, exec VP-chief marketing officer of CBS Interactive.

None of the systems is perfect, but, as Mr. Wurtzel puts it, "You've got to start somewhere."

And, like it or not, until a neutral third party is able to come up with standardized methods, data from individual media outlets will have to suffice.

Where consumers watch

On the boob tube
About 93% of audiences prefer the old-fashioned way, on a chair or couch in front of the ubiquitous appliance, according to Jack Oken, general manager-strategic measurement initiatives at Nielsen Media Research.

On iPods
Nielsen surveys reveal consumers spend an average of 45 minutes a day listening to music on the devices but only three or four minutes watching video, Mr. Oken said. Most of it tends to be stuff passed along by friends, not professional-quality dramas and comedies.

On the web
Many viewers use the internet for "snacking," or reviewing particular segments of a show, said Amanda Welsh, IMMI's senior VP-research. For many, the web is "more of a backup" that viewers use "to fill in for what they missed or want to rewatch," she said. Not necessarily the best environment for an important new campaign.

On the mobile phone
Gambling on this in the short term is dicey. "A lot of [marketers] are spending money hoping to hit a jackpot," Mr. Oken said, "but nobody really knows if the jackpot is large enough to warrant the money they are spending."
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