A First Look at Nielsen’s Total Audience Measurement and How It Will Change the Industry

It’s been two years since Nielsen first began developing a tool to measure viewers across all platforms—not just TV watchers as it has for the last 65 years. Since then, however, the project has attained mythical status among many advertisers, buyers and network executives. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” more than one has told me dismissively in recent months.

But the wait is almost over. Nielsen is putting the finishing touches on total audience measurement and gave Adweek an exclusive look at its new multiplatform measurement tool, which it says will forever change the industry. The company will begin sharing data with its clients this December and roll out the tool’s full capabilities early next year.

To paraphrase Seinfeld, total audience measurement is real and, given the industry’s growing cries this fall (in the face of more live TV viewership declines) for a tool that will finally allow them to fully measure and monetize viewers, it’s spectacular.


Nielsen has spent two years working on the framework, as it worked to align the disparate metrics for video content. The company has long had the capability to measure ratings up to 35 days after live airing, for both linear and digital TV. But evp Megan Clarken, who is leading the project, said this is over and above anything Nielsen has ever compiled. “What we have to do to perform a cross-platform total audience measurement is line all of those numbers up, so they have to be apples-to-apples comparisons,” Clarken said. “They have to follow the same underlying rules. They have to be on a single-sourced platform, because otherwise you’re cobbling numbers together and creating Frankenmetrics.”

The result is total audience measurement, Nielsen’s single-sourced platform to account for all viewing across linear TV, DVR, VOD, connected TV devices (Roku, Apple TV and Xbox), mobile, PC and tablets. The only thing left out: streaming content on wearables like the Apple Watch. “There’s always going to be things that are so small for us right now,” said Clarken.

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