Nielsen Calls On Industry To Help 'Total Up' Audience Measurement In Digital Age

Earlier this week, Nielsen, a measurement company that keeps track of television ratings and consumer trends, rolled out its first marketing campaign in roughly five years. Titled “Total It Up,” the initiative seeks to modernize how Nielsen tallies audience viewership by finally incorporating online content into its purview.

Though the company has kept track of television ratings since 1950 -- and recently started monitoring digital video recorders and video on-demand -- the idea is that online platforms, like Netflix and Hulu, and mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, represent the next frontier.

"Content is moving into so many new places and if you create content you want to be able to total that audience up," Cheryl Idell, an executive vice president at Nielsen, said in an interview with The Huffington Post. "You want to be able to take your traditional television viewership and combine it with your video on demand viewership and combine it with your DVR viewership and combine it with your mobile viewership, so you can truly have one number that tracks the audience to that content wherever it goes."

With networks locked in fierce competition over eyeballs and advertising dollars, ratings have long-functioned as the measuring stick of success in the TV industry. According to Idell, those numbers are the “currency” on which the entire industry is built, a way of telling what content is selling and what content isn’t. But as more and more Americans migrate away from the television set and toward the tablet, there is a growing need to adapt the system along with them.

“[I]t will be measurement that holds a key to enabling true understanding of this audience behavior (in real-time) to inform dynamic content and advertising in an ever-fragmenting media,” Dounia Turrill, Nielsen’s senior vice president of insights, wrote in the company’s most recent “Total Audience Report,” released Wednesday. “Accordingly, to do so, audience measurement will transform dramatically to capture and accurately value the ‘total audience.’”

Nielsen cannot make audience measurement more all-inclusive alone, however. The company already collaborates with networks to produce TV ratings, and is asking that measurement on digital platforms be an even greater team effort. Nielsen hopes its clients will help by putting software development kits into their apps and devices and flagging content with “tags or watermarks” for easy identification and monitoring.

“It isn't something Nielsen can do alone, we can't flip a switch and turn on this measurement,” Idell said. “We need our clients, we need the content creators, we need the advertisers to all collaborate into this process to make measurements possible across all platforms.”

Nielsen hopes the result will be a more comprehensive ratings system -- one that takes all viewership, regardless of platform or device, into account.

In a short video for the “Total It Up” campaign posted to the company’s website, Nielsen puts it simply:

“Let's count the binge-watchers; the cord-cutters; the on-the-go multi-taskers,” the video says. “Let's evolve the ratings to include every view on every screen.”