Two New Studies and the Future of Television Advertising

The Nielsen system, which measures television viewership, is far from responsive to the technology that’s created the modern viewing era, whether it’s the rise of DVR-assisted watching (still only 17 percent of television viewing) or streaming on platforms from Hulu to HBO GO. And it’s helped perpetuate a perception that watching shows in the time slot is the most valuable kind of viewership, even if time-shifting and streaming let viewers watch shows when they can be most engaged in absorbed in them. So it’s good to see, as the New York Times reports, advertisers and networks trying to do research that dispels that perception and develops new ways of rating and monetizing programming. Among the initial results:

Both pilot tests had a similar major finding: that the growing viewership of video online and on mobile devices is not diminishing the appetite for watching television. “Consumers have a desire to build more content into their lives,” said Joan FitzGerald, vice president for television sales and business development at comScore in Reston, Va.

For instance, consumers who watch online video “were greater users of TV” than those who did not, she added. The fact that the pilot test showed “there is not a lot of cannibalization” is significant, Ms. FitzGerald said. Likewise, Carol Edwards, senior vice president for cross-platform sales and marketing at Arbitron in Columbia, Md., said: “There isn’t cannibalization. Other platforms are complementary to television.”

“TV continues to play such a dominant role,” she added, “though there is content available on other platforms.” The tests are important, Ms. Edwards said, because “all the media companies are trying to monetize their content platforms and to be fully monetized, they need to be measured.” Among the findings of the Arbitron test that may be surprising was that of all the people who viewed content on all three screens, the largest demographic group was not the youngest. Adults ages 35 to 49 led, at 36.6 percent, followed by adults ages 50 and older, at 34.8 percent, and then by adults ages 18 to 34, at 28.6 percent


This kind of finding is critically important, and I look forward to the kinds of innovations these kinds of technologies eventually enable. I’d love to know if it’s possible, when someone DVRs a show, for the recording to be retrieved from a cloud rather on the recorder so the ads embedded in it could be continually updated, and made freshly relevant whenever someone chooses to play it. Similarly, I’d be curious to know if Hulu’s able to get higher ad rates on impressions its algorithm suggests are more directly relevant to users. Either way, anything that makes it easier to monetize shows in accordance with how they’re actually watched in terms of both time and intensity, and that makes it easier to support lower-rated shows on networks is good news for smart television.