Mobile Watching Television Viewership Measurement Proves Challenging

watching tv on mobile device

People are watching television is a new way – and this has companies like Nielsen working hard to find a way to quantify those watchers. As the uptick in mobile viewing (on smartphones, tablets and other devices) has increased its pace, the television ratings that programmers are paid for has declined.

Viewership increasing. The valuable 18-to-49-year-old demographic had a decrease of 5% in broadcast viewership, and almost 10% in cable viewership in the last year alone. For years, programmers have awaited a change to Nielsen and other viewing indexes to reflect actual viewership – and not simply viewership on television screens. 

This month, Nielsen launched the promised fix – a system that will measure the viewership on mobile devices as well as TV screens. It’s estimated that measuring the viewership on tablets, smartphones and other devices will show that people are actually watching and that industry’s future is not as dire as it seems.

A new system. Unfortunately, the new system won’t come in time to help with the current broadcast season, which started this month – and won’t until the networks sign on. Most TV networks and cable and satellite companies haven’t signed on yet for the new ratings. The reason? They aren’t positive they want online and mobile viewing tied into a master ratings number – and it all has to do with media buying.

“In terms of money per viewer, you are getting more for online streaming,” explained David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS Corp. in a Wall Street Journal article. There’s no incentive to view them as part of the same group as television viewers.

TV ratings use the “C3” viewership rating that tracks viewing for the first three days after a new episode is shown. In order for mobile viewing figures to be wrapped up in this number, programmers would have to provide equal advertising space on all channels of viewership – mobile included. This poses a problem for those networks that use targeted advertising online to younger, more tech-savvy viewers on mobile screens.


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