Perhaps the most significant topic of Tuesday’s Media Insights & Engagement Conference was a growing inability to measure TV viewership. Ratings have been in decline, but it’s not because people are watching less. It’s more a matter of how and where they’re watching; specifically, not on the living room TV. Many viewers are now watching the very same shows via web-based sources, ranging from Netflix, to TV networks’ own websites, and more. Viewing also takes place on a variety of devices, from cell phones to tablets to PCs, and even television sets with the help of set top boxes and streaming dongles.
Yet as use of these devices rises, they remain a bit of a black hole for firms like Nielsen seeking to quantify viewership. This has led many to question the usefulness of ratings in general. Netflix, perhaps the most successful OTT player, doesn’t reveal data for its service, citing it as more of a distraction for a useful tool. We’ve seen in the traditional television business how failure to bring in ratings can result in a quick demise for new shows. Some argue that the obsession with ratings isn’t giving great content a chance to grow and eventually become successful. Business network CNBC recently dumped Nielsen ratings entirely, citing the company’s failure to accurately measure their audience, which consists largely of business viewers.