Nielsen Says It Can Now Measure Netflix Streaming

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Soon the industry may have a much better read on how many people really watch Netflix shows such as 'Stranger Things.'
Soon the industry may have a much better read on how many people really watch Netflix shows such as 'Stranger Things.' Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Nielsen, for decades the arbiter of popularity on TV, says it will now measure all Netflix viewing too.

While the measurement giant has been saying since 2014 that it's able to track audiences for streaming programming, its capabilities were limited to programs from studios and networks that opted in.

But with its new Subscription Video On Demand Content Ratings, Nielsen says it will measure viewing of all content, including Netflix originals, whether or not a studio or network wants them to.

The new data will only be accessible, however, to those companies that pay for the service. Customers include A&E Networks, Disney-ABC TV Group, Lionsgate, NBC Universal and Warner Brothers, according to Nielsen. Subscribers can see data on Netflix viewing for non-subscribing networks and studios. Under the terms of the service, they can publicly release the results for their own content but not for others'.

The streaming ratings product only works on Netflix right now. Nielsen plans to expand it next year to encompass services such as Amazon and Hulu, where advertisers have a more vested interest.

Nielsen began measuring streaming content in 2014 as a more limited, opt-in service. Clients had to provide their content in advance so Nielsen could create audio fingerprints for its technology to later detect as people watched. Nielsen's new system lets it create such signatures without a network or studio's involvement.

Nielsen's SVOD Content Ratings will provide measurement of programs at the season and episode level, like Nielsen TV data. That means subscribers can get an episode's average audience per minute, just like for TV programs, over periods of time equivalent to TV. Unlike Nielsen's TV measurement, the product doesn't churn out ratings overnight; delivery time is typically more than a week.

The system has few direct implications for the ad business because Netflix programming doesn't include commercials, but it does provide a fuller view of TV's total audience beyond traditional platforms. It also gives programmers information that should be useful when they negotiate content licensing deals with Netflix.

Netflix itself has kept its data close to the vest, providing little insight into how its shows perform. The company has argued that viewership of its shows occurs over a longer period of time than traditional TV, making measurement of its content meaningless.

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