Counting Heads in Web Video

Feb 17, 2008  •  Post A Comment

TV networks using Nielsen Online’s VideoCensus tool said the service marks a step forward in the field of Web video audience measurement, but they still would like to see a comprehensive system that can count viewers on the Internet.
VideoCensus allows Nielsen and its clients to measure actual video streams watched online. That means media companies and advertisers can couple that granular data with projections Nielsen has used so far in counting video views.
Measuring audiences and packaging them for advertisers is a hot-button issue on the Internet, where the video business model is still in its infancy. While the Web is a more accountable medium than television, it’s also a more complicated one that relies on several disparate data sources. Smoothing those complications could bring more dollars in the the medium.
Online ad spending will hit $27.5 billion this year, according to eMarketer projections, with $1.4 billion of that slated for online video buys. TV is a $70 billion ad business.
Media companies and advertising agencies have relied on audience measurement information from firms like Nielsen, Hitwise, comScore and Omniture, as well as internal metrics from Web sites themselves. Those numbers often fluctuate wildly.
That’s why some networks are happy to have their hands on fresh data. Nielsen VideoCensus works by having clients tag each piece of video with a sort of digital watermark. That lets Nielsen track the video and how it was used.
Making Sense of Usage
“We are getting a good sense of how people are using content,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting, a VideoCensus client.
The early data says consumers are using Internet video as a snack, not as the main course, he said. That information can help Turner better program and package online content for advertisers, he said.
The new data from VideoCensus gives Mr. Wakshlag more confidence that the existing figures from the Nielsen Online projections are accurate.
ESPN, also a client, agrees.
“It gives us a precise census count of the viewing activity and gives us the granular insight into how the viewer was engaged with specific channels,” said Tom Evans, vice president of digital and cross-media research at ESPN.
The challenge with the new product is that not every network and media company uses the service, making some comparisons difficult.
Fox, for instance, doesn’t subscribe, though corporate sibling Fox Interactive Media does.
“In an ideal world you want to be able to compare one show against another show and one network versus another network,” said Jarvis Mak, VP and director of research at Media Contacts, a division of Havas.
Mr. Mak expects networks and media companies initially to use VideoCensus for a post-run analysis of how shows performed. As more media companies get on board, advertisers can use VideoCensus to compare apples to apples across networks, he said.
“This will bring a new level of accountability to the online video ecosystem in terms of who is doing what, where they are doing it and how long they are spending,” said Dave Osborn, VP of video and media products with Nielsen Online.
Even where Nielsen isn’t tagging specific pieces of video yet, the company will use its panel data to project overall video views for a site. That’s similar to comScore’s existing video streams measurement product.
For instance, Nielsen reported just last week that YouTube served 2.6 billion video streams to 67 million unique viewers in December. YouTube does not tag its videos using VideoCensus, so both figures are panel projections.
VideoCensus will become more valuable as more publishers tag their videos, said Vivi Zigler, executive VP of NBC Digital Entertainment. NBC is using the product for NBC.com and now tags every piece of video it distributes online, which means more than 1,000 new pieces of video each month, she said.
Watching the Watchers
“We are able to see the quantity of people watching ‘The Office’ online or looking at a piece of short-form content, and we can use the numbers and start to use the projected data to marry demographics with numbers,” she said.
Nielsen is among several data services NBC uses, but more information is better, she said. “If consumers aren’t enjoying a video, you can begin to shift your resources based on what they are responding to.”


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