Feb 5, 2012

Nielsen TV Ratings: Measuring a Sprint with a Sundial

U News @ 11 with a g+ Hangout
Plenty of TV stations have dipped their toes in the water of interactive news and I have a theory why television stations aren’t finding the water inviting.  Could it be the chilling effect of an antiquated “TV” ratings system?
Much like U_News @ 11, KOMU’s hybrid newscast, these new interactive newscasts have a layer of social media with 140 character soundbites, Facebook posts and in my case…. guests are interviewed on TV via Google Plus Hangouts.  The blending of TV newscast with on-line news has never been easier thanks to G+ Hangouts because people are now able to watch your newscast from two different perspectives.  As much as KOMU’s interactive newscast is a glimpse into the future, the TV ratings system in many markets is a throwback to the past.
In Columbia, MO, market #138, viewership is measured with paper diaries sent via snail mail.  The paper books are mailed to a sample of people in our viewing area.  Those sampled are asked to write with a pen or pencil the shows they watch and then mail that document back.  No, I’m not making this up.  Larger markets have “set top boxes” that measure viewership automatically but there are many markets like ours that rely on viewers to fill out ratings diaries by hand.
Now I ask you….when’s the last time you responded to a mailed-in request to complete a survey?  Sometimes, the survey is conducted via phone…a landline of course.  If you read your mail and use your landline, God love ya but that paper survey doesn’t come close to measuring all of the platforms where people are now consuming our content nor does a set top box (STB) in the larger markets.  Take Google Plus for instance, we have 550, 000 who’ve circled us on that platform.  How many of those people watching via Hangouts are measured in the Nielsen ratings?  Zero.  How many who watch our streaming newscast online are counted in our Nielsen ratings? Zero.  And then… there’s mobile.
So advertisers:  Why are you still asking for a station’s Nielsen numbers?  Stations:  Why are we using these numbers to set our advertising rates?  If it’s because there’s no other alternative, then I’d like to ask someone who’s reading this to please innovate a comprehensive alternative that measures local TV stations’ content consumption on ALL  platforms….including Google Plus Hangouts.
As TV stations move toward multimedia companies in the future, we have to have a comprehensive ratings plan or “broadcasting” will certainly be stuck in the past.  It’s like promoters of a Swedish House Mafia concert trying to sell those seats to Elvis fans.  Right now, we have one accepted form of measurement for TV and no accepted form of measurement for broadcasting within a social media stream.  Social media isn’t just a portal to our TV content anymore.  With Hangouts now, it IS our TV content.  I wonder who will be the first to cut their landline in terms of the traditional ratings system? Plenty have tried but some have gone back to Nielsen because there are few widely accepted alternatives.  If we can innovate newscasts that blend TV and social media, then why can’t we innovate and agree on a comprehensive ratings system to measure all of the places where people see our content?
G+ Hangout ratings anyone? In the news business it doesn’t matter how fast we run if the sprint is being measured with a Sundial…. we will never know the real winner of the race.