Instead of relying upon Nielsen ratings, Viacom has signed an agreement with Rentrak for TV and VOD audience measurements.

As TV networks continue to watch their Nielsen ratings drop, some of those networks are starting to drop Nielsen ratings instead. Following CNBC’s defection to Cogent, Viacom has announced an agreement with research firm Rentrak to measure their audiences on both television and video-on-demand platforms. Despite Nielsen’s recent announcement of a partnership with Roku, the company’s once all-important ratings have been met with increasing skepticism. Falling ratings are often blamed, not on poor performance of programming, but on Nielsen’s inability to capture accurate snapshots of audiences which are increasingly tuning in on mobile devices, tablets, PCs, and other devices rather than on traditional television sets.
Many programming decisions at the major networks are driven in large part by ratings, so having incomplete information determine the fate of content is very risky given the highly competitive nature of the television business. This has led many to question whether Nielsen ratings are losing their relevance. One of the leading new media companies, Netflix, famously doesn’t disclose audience date, nor do they rely in it when making programming decisions the way their television counterparts do. Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos even claimed that there’s no reason for them to bother looking at the numbers. Instead, he suggested that obsessing over ratings and other such measurements put unnecessary pressures on content producers, and even lead to quality programming being killed before it has a chance to blossom. Netflix has continued to gain subscribers fairly rapidly, and content produced in-house like “House of Cards” has performed well, suggesting that the strategy of ignoring ratings is paying off.
This raises an important point: quality content risks being cut down in its prime because of low ratings that may be more of a function of poor reporting than poor performance by the content itself. One example could be NBC’s popular sitcom “Community” which was canceled by the network, only to be picked up by Yahoo. It’s safe to say that the folks at Yahoo did not base their decision on ratings, and obviously saw value in the show and its loyal following. From new players in the TV space like Yahoo and Netflix, to old guard media industry giants like Viacom, ratings, or at least those from Nielsen, are quickly losing their clout. The industry needs to find an alternative solution that can provide reliable ratings, or end its obsession with ratings all together.
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