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Nielsen announces Nielsen Digital Program Ratings to measure TV viewership online

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Our TV viewing habits have migrated to online platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and network websites. Unfortunately Nielsen, the organization that measures TV viewership (among other things), has been relying on a limited number of participants and their set top boxes to gauge the popularity of a TV show. But Nielsen announced that it was finally venturing into the measurement of online TV, and that the way popularity is measured is about to get some digital influence. 

Nielsen is kickstarting its initiative with its pilot program, called Nielsen Digital Program Ratings, with networks including A+E, ABC, AOL, CBS, The CW, Discovery Communications, FOX, NBC, and Univision on board. The program begins next month in May and ends in July. The commercial release of the program is “targeted for later this year.” An actual date hasn’t been set.

Nielsen isn’t tracking viewership on third-party video sites like Netflix, Amazon Instant, or Hulu just yet – it’s just a trial program for now – so instead the viewership that will be measured comes from these network’s own websites. So if you’re watching Fringe on FOX’s website, for example, Nielsen will be able to track this.

While this won’t really change your day-to-day viewing habits, once the program is chugging along, it might be great news for the TV viewers that have a favorite show in danger of getting cut from the network. With the extra data, executives might have a better idea about how popular a network’s TV show really is. It might be enough to save a show or two that might otherwise be axed.

Nielsen says that its online TV measurement program is powered by its Online Campaign Ratings, which gauges TV viewership for online advertising campaigns. Nielsen’s Digital Program Ratings will measure similar metrics “including unique audience, stream counts, and reach by age and gender for TV programming viewed online.”

For now, Nielsen is sticking to measuring just TV content on participating network’s websites. Since many Internet-connected users aren’t solely watching TV content on their desktops, Nielsen says that support for other types of content and devices will roll out eventually.

“The pilot for Nielsen Digital Program Ratings is a major milestone for the industry,” SVP for Global Digital Audience Measurement at Nielsen Eric Solomon said in a statement. “As a companion product to Nielsen Online Campaign Ratings, Nielsen Digital Program Ratings will enable clients to better understand the online audience for their programming by harnessing the same methodology Nielsen already uses to measure the audience for related advertising.”

The Digital Program Ratings isn’t the first foray that Nielsen has had in experimenting with other types of viewership measurement tactics. Nielsen announced in December the launch of its Nielsen Twitter TV Ratings – a forward thinking move by Nielsen to track TV viewership metrics solely using Twitter data.

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