One of the hardest challenges that the rise of social media has brought is the way audiences are measured. Traditionally, TV and radio ratings were easily obtained: the amount of television sets and radio devices tuned to a certain channel at a particular time was quite straightforward data –and that was enough to show advertisers.
But now, there are several complications. First, the audiences’ attention is divided into several platforms, which pretty much renders ratings useless, except maybe when it comes to major, one-time, broadcast events. However, the Super Bowl and the Oscars award ceremony, two of the most famous yearly TV occasions, have seen their ratings decline steadily. They both had in 2021 their lowest ratings ever.
Second, some streaming companies are not willing to share viewership data. Netflix, for example, is famous for not releasing their show’s rating in the millions; they only have a top 10 most-viewed list of content. They don’t need to share this viewership, either; as a subscriber service and content factory, advertisers have pretty much become irrelevant.
And third, it is virtually impossible to gather accurate data of how people are actually spending their time in front of screens. Each user spends their time differently on their smartphones, and the claim that they “are watching TV” at home can throw some misleading data.
For example, a recent study by Nielsen showed that in July, 64% of the time people spent watching TV was dedicated to broadcast or cable channels. About 25% was spent on streaming services, mainly Netflix and YouTube –and it is expected to climb to 33% by the end of the year.
So, is measuring audiences still relevant? Or should streaming companies leverage on the uncertainty?
This last option might be the wisest: the same Nielsen study shows that people are more open to cheaper streaming options –a category in which local sports, ad-supported college leagues, or hyper localized content might fit and benefit from. And with the rise of OTT streaming technologies, the offering of this type of options might just be on the brink of multiplying.