Modern Family co-creator and Executive Producer has been on the warpath about “measurement” since at least the TCA’s when he suggested ABC  do a test where they pulled Modern Family off of the Internet (Hulu,, etc).

Tuesday night he went at it again via Twitter where he wrote:

Some estimate Hulu IPO could bring in $2Bil. What will the content providers get? Zero. What is Hulu without content? An empty jukebox.

But Wednesday night it was a little different,  now it’s Steve Levitan, man of the people!

To be clear, I value every single one of our viewers, no matter how you watch, I just want you to be counted…


…That’s how we’ll ensure the future of quality television.

And then he uttered (or at least typed) the words all frustrated fans who aren’t Nielsen homes or who are over 50 and mostly don’t matter to primetime advertising crave to hear:

I’m not really sure what Mr. Levitan’s motivations are, and he may well have absolutely no agenda whatsoever other than wanting everyone to be counted.  What is refreshing here is that Levitan is not the executive producer of a low-rated show, he’s the EP of one of ABC’s biggest hits!

Still, I’m cynical and coupled with his tweet about Hulu’s IPO I’m guessing that what’s really motivating him is the thought that millions of people are watching his show that he’s somehow not getting paid on,  and that would be fine except:

  • Nielsen ratings aren’t about measuring popularity of shows. They’re about brokering television advertising.   Once online versions of shows have the same ads that aired on television, Nielsen will soon begin to count online viewing for advertising purposes the same way they do with TV and DVR (all viewing of commercials within 3 days).  On Demand viewing within 3 days will soon be counted too provided it has the same national commercial load as the telecast had.
  • If he has a problem with the above, he needs to take it up with advertisers who aren’t interested in paying after 3 days.  That’s not Nielsen’s problem or a measurement problem
  • The online, iPad, ABC.Com and Hulu are all tracked at least internally. As both co-owner of Hulu, and content provider, ABC presumably sees stats that are never (sadly) released publicly like the Nielsen ratings.
  • DVR viewing is measured at least up to 7 days after viewing for program measurements and 3 days after viewing for commercial measurements. Edit: Bill notes that commercial viewing is measured out to 7 days too. But the advertisers pay only on the viewing out to 3 days.
  • iTunes sales are absolutely tracked.   If he feels like he should see those numbers he should take that up with 20th Century Fox Television (where Modern Family is produced) or ABC, depending on who has the digital rights.

The point is everything he wants counted mostly is already counted.  If he wants DVR and On Demand viewing counted after 3 days, he needs to take that up with advertisers.  Here, the TV networks are with him — they’d love to get paid on all viewing!

If what he wants is one rolled up number, I understand his frustration if his goal is to measure popularity. But to what end?

There’s no point in rolling it all up.  Nobody can do anything with those numbers because for a variety of reasons its a mix of apples, pears and oranges (lots of commercials, almost no commercials, and on iTunes, no commercials).   NBC does this already with it TAMi report —  but it’s so useless, even NBC doesn’t talk much about it anymore.

Still, I think it’s great for Mr. Levitan to be kvetching in public.  It’s an opportunity to have the discussion.  I doubt it leads to the way advertising is bought and sold working any differently, but you never know.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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