NEW YORK: Falling TV audiences have turned the spotlight on measurement companies, with some broadcasters accusing them of failing to keep up with changing viewing habits.
The Financial Times noted that falling ratings had been a feature of recent financial results. Viacom saw viewership fall 18% in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to an assessment by analysts MoffettNathanson, while at children's network Nickleodeon audiences were down 17% and at MTV 14%.
Viacom argues, however, that people are still watching its content, just in different ways than before – young people don't always turn on a television but may watch via smartphones or a games console.
Measurement company Nielsen has become a target for the ire of it and others, who say it should be measuring those other media.
Philippe Dauman, Viacom CEO has spoken of the "far-reaching shifts taking place" in the industry and of how "inadequate measurement" has undermined "innovation".
His approach has been to reduce dependence on Nielsen ratings and to increase digital inventory, with more targeted ads that are inserted when shows are watched on demand, and to sell more sponsorships, with the aim of having these sources account for half of ad sales within three years.
David Zaslav, chief executive of cable programmer Discovery Communications, was also critical of Nielsen. "There's no question that it's under-measuring," he said. "I think they will fix it over time, but it's a problem."
He illustrated just how important this could be with a reference to Norway, where a new measurement system has led to TV viewing figures turning around from double-digit decreases to a 15% increase.
"Anybody that watches anything, whether you watch it in a bar, you watch it at your vacation house, whether you watch it on your iPad, it counts," he said.
It is not only the (current) inability to pick up digital viewers that is an issue. Megan Clarken, evp/global digital products at Nielsen admitted that some time-shifted viewing was not captured as the C3 metric only counts what is viewed within three days of a show being aired.
She also contended that the broadcasters were being hit by the "competing landscape on the digital side with digital pure plays producing content" – as series on Netflix and Amazon Prime have been proving popular.
But Nielsen is planning to introduce a digital ratings system this year. "We think it's important that the ratings we provide are reflective of what's going on in the environment," Clarken said.
Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff