RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
You might think you favorite TV show is a source of entertainment and diversion. For you maybe, but for advertisers its all about delivering your eyeballs to their commercials. But many are watching TV differently in this age of TiVos and Hulu. And as NPRs Neda Ulaby reports, advertisers are having a hard time keeping up.
NEDA ULABY: Seventy billion dollars, thats how much money is spent on TV advertising every year. And those billions get spent based on data from one company, Nielsen basically has a stranglehold on television ad dollars.
Mr. BILL GORMAN (TV By The Numbers): They not only measure who is watching what programs but they measure they average viewing of the commercials in those programs.
ULABY: Bill Gormans blog is called TV By The Numbers. Pretty much all it does is look at Nielsen ratings.
Mr. GORMAN: The revenue potential of a show is all that matters.
ULABY: Networks are businesses, Gorman says, and they want to sell commercials.
Mr. GORMAN: Thats the only thing that matters, and what allows them to sell advertising at better prices is better ratings.
ULABY: One show on FX has been getting terrific ratings.
(Soundbite of motorcycles)
ULABY: Sons of Anarchy is about a California motorcycle gang. Its viewership rose 66 percent from its first season to its second. Nielsen reported its finale was the most-watched show in its time slot among men aged 18 to 49. The way Nielsen breaks down those numbers annoys Kurt Sutter. He is the shows creator.
Mr. KURT SUTTER (Creator, Sons of Anarchy): I think the worst thing that ever happened to television viewing was research about television viewing. How people watch TV and why people watch TV, and what are they doing the first 15 minutes, and then what are they doing?
ULABY: But does that kind of detailed Nielsen information justify $70 billion a year? Advertising executive Kate Sirkin.
Mr. KATE SIRKIN (Starcom MediaVest Group): I'm not sure that that metric is the only metric we need going forward.
ULABY: Sirkin suggests that Nielsen is falling behind right at the moment when the ways we watch television are multiplying. She works for a big firm called Starcom MediaVest Its part of a consortium of powerful ad agencies and TV networks. Its pressuring Nielsen to adapt to a new flipped around business model where people dont always watch TV on TV.
Ms. SIRKIN: If a TV show goes out on iTunes, Hulu, regular television, how many people saw that? Who those people were.
ULABY: Big advertisers can no longer rely just on Nielsen, as they did for decades. Now they go to a bunch of different companies for metrics. For example, TiVo tells Sirkin's company which of their ads caught people's attention and which were skipped through.
Ms. SIRKIN: We want to know what a consumer is doing, understanding, when were paying for advertising, how many people saw our commercials.
ULABY: Soon, Nielsen promises itll be able to deliver more measurements. Steve Hasker is Nielsen's president of media products. He says the company is laboring to get new measurements in place that will combine data about how people watch online, on regular TV, and even on smart phones and other mobile devices.
Mr. STEVE HASKER (President, Media Products Nielsen): We'll be able to tell what type of video they watch, what type of sites they go to, how they interact on those sites, what they buy on those sites, what types of news articles they're reading.
ULABY: That measurement wont even be fully ready for almost two years. And it does not yet include shows streamed on Web sites owned by networks, like Hulu, the nations second largest video site with over 43 million users each month.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.