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Digital Transformation Media Measurement Future of TV

Nielsen launches tool to tell advertisers which household member is watching what show


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

January 4, 2022 | 8 min read

Industry mainstay Nielsen has today unveiled 'Streaming Signals.' The new product is designed to help advertisers predict who is watching a specific program within a household of multiple people — so they can serve more relevant ads in real time.

Eye on screen

Nielsen says it has a new way to tell advertisers who's watching what programming within a household

Nielsen today unveiled a new solution that aims to help media buyers and sellers understand which member of a household is consuming a given connected television (CTV) program in real time. The TV ratings and ad measurement firm says its new "Streaming Signals" tool will help advertisers optimize ad relevancy and stop wasting streaming ad dollars on spots that aren't well-targeted.

“It’s become clear that CTV measurement needs to advance so media buyers and sellers can optimize revenue while enhancing the consumer experience," Ameneh Atai, general manager of digital and advanced TV commercial at Nielsen, tells The Drum. "With the launch of Streaming Signals, Nielsen is empowering advertisers to better reach their target audiences, who, in turn, are served more relevant ads and enjoy an improved experience overall."

The move is part of the company's ongoing efforts to improve the accuracy, precision and cross-channel capabilities of CTV ad measurement following a flurry of accusations that its existing frameworks painted incomplete or inaccurate pictures of real viewership.

Here’s what you need to know about Nielsen's efforts to revamp CTV viewership data, and how its new Streaming Signals product could fit into the plan.

The path toward better video streaming measurement

Last September, industry standards group the Media Rating Council (MRC) suspended accreditation of Nielsen’s National Television service as well as its Local People Meter and Set Meter Markets services — both of which fall under the umbrella of Nielsen’s Local Market services — following reports that the firm had systematically reported inaccurate viewership data during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The scandal added fuel to a growing fire concerning the accuracy and precision of existing CTV ad measurement techniques ("The lack of measurement in connected TV has been the industry's biggest hurdle for years," claims Tal Chalozin, co-founder and chief technology officer at adtech company Innovid). With growing demand for better cross-channel currencies, Nielsen's MRC scandal prompted players like NBCUniversal to make public calls for new measurement approaches. In particular, Nielsen’s long-standing panel-based approach to measurement was brought into question.

Meanwhile, Nielsen has stressed that it is working with the MRC to reestablish its accreditation and overhaul its existing measurement frameworks. The company plans to shift to an impressions-based currency for buying and selling — a change that will occur in tandem with the integration of broadband-only (BBO) homes into Nielsen’s local measurement metrics early this year. This decision aims to offer media buyers and sellers more precise audience-related data. Then, in November, the company announced it is revamping its commercial ratings system.

Now, on the heels of an historic rebrand, Nielsen is rolling out its latest innovation: a new product that leverages streaming data in order to “eliminate advertising waste” by providing better individual viewer-level data — rather than household-level data — to advertisers and media operators, per a statement released by the company today.

Understanding the new Streaming Signals product

Traditionally, CTV ads have been served and measured on the household level — an approach that features inherent measurement challenges, due to the fact that it can be difficult to determine which member or members of a household are watching a given show.

Nielsen’s new Streaming Signals tool aims to remedy this issue by applying historical viewership data and machine learning capabilities, paired with Nielsen’s panel data, to predict with greater accuracy who is in a given household and who is watching a given program in real time. Streaming Signals then sends signals to CTV operators indicating who is in the home and is most likely streaming a given program. All of this processing happens within a reported 50 milliseconds, giving operators and advertisers a more precise and accurate view into who is consuming a given program at a given time.

With this information, Nielsen claims advertisers can make faster, better decisions and serve more relevant ads to target audiences. For example, by using Streaming Signals, an advertiser might determine that the household member watching HBO’s ‘Sex and the City’ reboot ‘And Just Like That,’ is a 25 year-old woman versus a 60-year-old woman. With this information, the advertiser can quickly pivot from serving a possibly irrelevant ad to serving an ad likely to resonate better with a viewer of this demographic.

The company says that by helping advertisers understand who is watching what, Streaming Signals helps boost on-target percentage — a commonly-used metric that indicates what share of a campaign's results come from the intended audience. Media owners are also likely to benefit from Streaming Signals; by offering more accurate capabilities, they’ll be better positioned to increase ad sales.

Experts say the move looks promising — but that Nielsen still faces the task of regaining trust. "The new Streaming Signals product is certainly a step in the right direction for Nielsen, but they still have a lot of work to do — as with any new launch, there are going to be questions of validity and accuracy," says Stephen Strong, co-founder and chief business officer at media and technology company Origin. "This particular product does help fill clear gaps within the CTV space. Moving from household to individual user on CTV is important and this product helps increase innovation and provide more granularity around viewership, as there is greater access to data in a real time way — so it is actionable immediately."

Even so, Strong points out that Nielsen isn't necessarily a true pioneer in offering viewer-level insights; "Companies like TVision have had products that distinguish who is actually watching on a CTV device for a while," he says.

Nielsen's Atai, however, argues that Nielsen is still at an advantage when it comes to providing accurate CTV viewer-level data to advertisers and operators. "Given that Nielsen sits at the intersection of streaming behavior and audience data, we are in the best position to provide planning and measurement solutions that give companies the confidence that they are spending every dollar efficiently and effectively while enriching the consumer’s experience," she says.

Per today's statement, the company also asserts that the customers likely to reap the most benefit from Streaming Signals are those who are already Nielsen Digital Ad Ratings (DAR) customers, claiming that the two solutions, when used in tandem, improve ad measurement and enable more efficient decision-making.

Nielsen’s DAR helps customers understand the age and gender of a given campaign’s viewers. With these insights, advertisers can leverage either contextual or behavioral targeting approaches to serve relevant ads to target audiences at speed. “Streaming Signals brings the best of these solutions together to deliver a higher threshold of ad accuracy and relevance,” the company said.

Leaders in the space predict that Nielsen's Streaming Signals is just the first of many forthcoming attempts to improve CTV ad measurement this year. "As CTV closes in on almost 20% of total TV ad spend, insights are not only highly valuable, but are also in high demand. It's safe to assume that in 2022 we'll see many technology developments here, given the fact that past products have yet to solve for the challenges that the streaming world presents," says Innovid's Chalozin. "Those products will all be aiming towards better decision making and transparency into the CTV industry for planning, targeting, messaging and analysis."

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