- NBCUniversal is using the Olympics to tout its custom Total Audience Delivery (TAD) metric as an alternative to classic Nielsen ratings.
- The media company wants to stop advertisers and media journalists from focusing on Nielsen ratings at a time when people are watching less live TV.
- It won’t be easy to shift an entire industry’s fixation on this type of data. But most in the TV business recognize that current measurement systems are inadequate for fragmented digital viewing.
NBCUniversal is taking reporting ratings for the Winter Olympics into its own hands. The question is whether the rest of the TV industry will follow.
The media giant is using the Olympics to push its case for reporting what it calls Total Audience Delivery (TAD). This NBCU-created ratings construct is essentially a medley of data from different sources designed to help get across how many people are actually watching the games, whether on live linear TV, NBCU’s apps or mobile devices.
TAD is NBCU’s not-so-subtle message that when it comes to measuring modern TV viewing, Nielsen can’t cut it.
For example, on Sunday night, NBCU says it delivered 26 million viewers, an audience it’s calling the most “dominant” opening Winter Olympics Sunday ever.
That TAD number includes 22.7 million people watching on NBC, along with a 15% boost from other platforms.
In fact, NBCU says through Monday afternoon this year’s games have already generated 445 million live streaming minutes, which is more than the 420 million live minutes recorded during the entirety of the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.
“We want a holistic picture, and a way to capture all that consumption,” Krishan Bhatia, NBCU’s EVP, business operations & strategy, told Business Insider. “We’re going with best measurement available. And there is no single source that can do that for all platforms.”
“And this is not just limited to the Olympics,” Bhatia added. “If you look at a show like “This is Us,” 50% of that show’s audience is not captured in the linear rating.”
Bhatia said what most big advertisers care about is running their ads during a certain time period (during a particular promotion, or holiday season), having their ads run alongside premium content, and reaching the right audience demographics.
And whether people watch on TV, the web, on Rokus, or on their phones – the Olympics delivers on all fronts.
“So if we can track those, it should count,” said Bhatia.
Yet the way NBCU compiles TAD reporting is unorthodox, and according to some, less than ideal from a data science perspective. That’s because rather than using a single third party measurement vendor (typically the preferred approach among media researchers), NBCU pieces together data from Nielsen, Adobe, the ad tech firm Freewheel, and Oracle to produce TAD numbers.
NBCU has two overarching goals with TAD. For one, it wants to get the ad buying world accustomed to thinking of TV audiences as being less confined to live airings of shows, and more like something that is compiled across multiple platforms over varied time periods. For the first time, NBCU sold advertisers packages that guaranteed specific audiences across platforms rather than treated TV and digital audiences and ad sales separately, reported the Wall Street Journal.
In addition, with TAD NBCU likely wants to nudge the press to stop reporting solely on Nielsen ratings on a given night. The company clearly wants to kill the narrative that took hold during the most recent summer Olympics in Rio.
Right out of the gate, reports swirled that ratings for the 2016 games were down considerably compared to the 2012 London Olympics. That led to stories questioning whether the Olympics were fundamentally in decline as a live TV event and whether millennials even liked sports.
Weeks later, NBCU was able to pump out data that showed how many people were streaming various Olympic events on various platforms, particularly younger people. But by then, it was tough to change the story.
It’s hard to communicate all that in a press release, especially as TV media is trained to report straight ratings. Thus, you get headlines such as:
As Business Insider has reported, TV measurement is facing something of a crisis. And NBCU wants to be seen as a change agent. Plus, the company spent over $7 billion to secure rights to air the Olympics through 2032, so it needs to get this right.
Over the past few years NBCU execs have been openly critical of the incumbent TV researcher Nielsen’s ability to track how people view TV outside of traditional live TV viewing. The company has gone as far as publishing an open letter to Nielsen in late 2016 calling for a delayed rollout of its Total Content Ratings product and even hosted an industry wide summit in November partially aimed at trying to fix media measurement.
Getting a huge industry to change the way it thinks and operates is never easy. But NBCU says however painful, it’s necessary.
“It starts at the top. Consumers are shifting the way they watch TV,” said Bhatia. “Millennials do watch the Olympics. But the industry is tethered to an air date. If you’re still focused just on ratings you are missing the point. So when we have discussions with major agencies, we’re trying to figure our a new approach.”
Part of that approach is partnering with digital platforms to push out Olympics content (though it’s worth noting, not all big tech platforms are part of the mix). The list includes Apple News, as well as Snapchat, where NBCU is streaming live Olympic footage.
“We’re leaning in there,” said Bhatia. “At the same time, we’re doing less on platforms where monetization and measurement don’t work for us here. Like Facebook.”