In what is likely the most significant change in the methods Nielsen uses to measure TV — and potentially all forms of video content — the ratings company this week quietly began informing clients of a major initiative to develop a suite of new audience meters and digital tracking codes that could begin replacing its current meters as soon as 2014.
Dubbed “GTAM,” which stands for Global Television Audience Metering, the initiative includes the development of four new audience metering technologies designed to deal with all of the conceivable challenges involved in measuring the viewing behavior of contemporary consumer households.
The initiative is significant for several reasons beyond the technologies being developed, including the fact that it is a major reaffirmation of Nielsen’s strategy for basing audience measurement around in-home viewing, which has been the foundation of its audience measurement systems, although some components of the GTAM initiative will make it easier for Nielsen to incorporate mobile, wireless and Internet-based video audience exposure as well. The other major reason the plan is significant is that as its name might imply, it will be a global effort — and the technologies being developed would likely be deployed as part of a standardized methodology across the 16 international markets Nielsen currently measures media audiences in.
The four new metering solutions include the so-called “GTAM meter,” which will be the primary device Nielsen plans to use for audience measurement. The GTAM meter is said to be smaller, more ergometric, easier for consumers to interact with, and far less “invasive” than Nielsen’s current industry standard “A/P meters.” Like the A/P meters, which stand for active/passive metering components, the new GTAM meter is expected to utilize a combination of active and passive measurement technologies, but unlike Nielsen’s current meters it will not require it to be physically connected to any household media devices, such as a TV set, set-top tuner, DVR, etc., to function.
The second technology in development is a lighter, somewhat less sophisticated meter, aptly named the “GTAM Lite Meter,” which is capable of measuring TV audiences in households that have fewer electronic devices in them and are less complicated to measure.
A third device, code-named the “Code Reader,” is an even smaller device that relies entirely on its ability to monitor the digital codes associated with TV and video programming. All the new metering technologies are being designed to work with a new, bulletproof digital watermarking technology Nielsen has developed that is capable of surviving any conceivable compression technologies that would otherwise strip away current versions of digital codes and watermarks. Dubbed “Watermark,” the new code is said to be integral to Nielsen’s plans to accelerate cross-platform video measurement and integration, because it is also a solution to measuring video exposure across wired and wireless Internet platforms.
The fourth metering technology in the initiative potentially may be the most controversial in the mix, because it is designed to explicitly replace its current people meters, now the state-of-the-art in Nielsen’s TV metering portfolio. Unlike Nielsen’s current generation of people meters, which utilize blinking lights to remind viewers to push buttons to indicate they are actively watching TV programming, the new meters will feature an LED screen that will give respondents written instructions and prompts for complying with the measurement process.
That meter is dubbed the “Scrolling Text People Meter,” and it could be controversial, because it is designed to improve the cooperation and compliance of people watching TV in a sample household, which could potentially influence the way they watch TV.
Nielsen is expected to vet the new approaches and technologies among its various client groups, and industry bodies before deploying anything, and the likely time frame is that the first versions of the new meters would not be installed in sample households until early 2014, following a year of evaluation during 2013.