At the TCA presentation on Sunday, Modern Family producer Steve Levitan lamented the availability of Modern Family episodes online at ABC.com and Hulu and proposed a test where they take Modern Family offline.
"We could be a top three show if you add all that in," said Levitan referring to DVR and online viewing.
The big learning for me here is that de facto monopolies (Nielsen) can, and quite often do, suck at marketing.
Online numbers, at least some of them, will be counted soon
This is a perfect opportunity for the networks and Nielsen to trumpet the forthcoming "TVandPC measurement" that will at least count any online viewing that happens within 3 days of the original telecast as long as it has the same commercials. Those numbers are expected to be rolled into Nielsen's C3 measurement which currently measures live viewing of commercials, plus any commercials viewed within 3 days, on DVR.
Testing will begin soon (or has already begun) with plans calling for it to be included in the C3 numbers beginning in Q1 of 2011.
DVR Numbers are ALREADY counted
See above. DVR viewing is already counted three separate ways provided you are a Nielsen home:
1. any DVR viewing up to 3am the morning after the program aired is counted in the overnight ratings commonly referred to as "Live+Same Day" or Live+SD program ratings.
2. any DVR viewing up to a week after the program aired, including the "Same Day" viewing is counted in the Live+7 ratings
3. any commercial viewing live and up to 3 days after airing is counted in the "C3" ratings. These numbers are not as commonly available as the program ratings, unless you are a Nielsen subscriber, but at least so far, the Live+SD numbers that are more widely available, and available much sooner, have typically been a reasonable proxy for figuring out how a program's C3 ratings will be.
Measurement Isn't Done To Directly Measure Popularity, It's Done to Sell Advertising
I know a lot of people really, really don't like to hear this but the counting isn't done to directly measure popularity. Please don't shoot the messenger (me) or, in this case the measure-er (Nielsen) because this doesn't have a damn thing to do with Nielsen.
How many people in total watched is a very important number to fans and producers of shows, but it's a number that really doesn't matter. The number that matters is how many people are watching the commercials. That's what pays most of the bills and that's why the measurement is done. That isn't a Nielsen thing -- it would be true if there were multiple competitors to Nielsen or if there was another de facto monopoly measuring instead of Nielsen.
I Understand Steve Levitan, But...
A part of me would like to see his experiment conducted, just to see if it actually made any measurable difference to the Nielsen ratings, but ultimately I think it's a mistake, especially once TVandPC ratings are rolled out.
Even among DVR owners there is a lot of "ah, I can just watch it online if I don't record it." Especially once online viewing within three days includes full commercial loads that can't be fast-forwarded through, the networks will actually be better off with that viewing than with DVR viewing where it's easy to bypass commercials. To that end I also fully expect the networks to try to make those same programs available On Demand with full commercial loads and work with the cable/satellite and telco operators to block fast-forwarding.
Most households still don't have a DVR. DVR's are available only in slightly more than 1 out of every three homes. That means they are not available in nearly two out of every three homes. Giving people access to shows, especially when they will have full commercial loads, could be a pretty big deal.
One Important Thing for the Networks to Figure Out:
Once TVandPC measurement is rolled out there will be one important thing to figure out: how to make money on shows for viewing that occurs after 3 days. I suspect that both internally and in the TV trade press, the topic will become a big deal once the TVandPC measurement is actually rolled out.
Jeff Zucker is not alone in thinking access to "the vault" of content shouldn't necessarily be free.