Nielsen overhaul may be just the beginning

Those of you not interested in the business of television and online marketing may not find this one very interesting, but this is a pet topic of mine and I’m the mommy and I say we’re going to talk about it.

If you don’t like it, you can go to your room, mister.

Once upon a time—about 57 years ago—the Nielsen company started tracking television viewing in American homes. Since then, Nielsen Media has expanded and taken over the world. Erm, I mean, they’ve branched out into other areas beyond just their notoriety as the television rating people.

Here’s where it gets interesting: Nielsen has also branched out into tracking web surfing (naturally) and now the news is that they’re changing the way they rank website popularity:

Nielsen/NetRatings, the media research firm, will overhaul the way it measures the popularity of Web sites, moving to add two new yardsticks to its service, it said on Tuesday.

The move follows growing criticism of how Internet user behavior is measured and how the value of Web sites is determined, both of them key factors in convincing advertisers to shift more of their spending to the Web.

Currently, advertisers and online sites often use so-called page views, or the number of times a page was viewed by users, to judge the audience a site attracts.

Nielsen/NetRatings, however, is introducing measurements that will show the total number of minutes per user and the total session per user on Web sites.

The move is intended to give a better picture of audience activity online, given that users are increasingly spending more time with one site watching videos or messaging, for instance.

This is notable news for a couple of reasons. First, those of us in the business of marketing on the ‘net have been displeased with the “pageviews model” for some time, because in today’s world of web applications (Flash, instant messaging, RSS feeds) it has long been through to be an inaccurate assessment of usage. Similarly, judging blogs by the number of comments isn’t an accurate view of popularity, either. (People tend not to leave comments here, for example, but I see you out there. You’re just not a very chatty bunch.)

Second, in terms of television programming, this makes me wonder if similar reform is coming to the rankings of our favorite shows. The days of a family plunking themselves down to watch a show on a given night are drawing to a close. Families TiVo shows to watch later; people watch shows on the internet at their leisure.

The way we interact with media is changing, and it’s about time that Nielsen started catching up.

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