RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
You might think you favorite TV show is a source of entertainment and diversion. For you maybe, but for advertisers it's all about delivering your eyeballs to their commercials. But many are watching TV differently in this age of TiVos and Hulu. And as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, advertisers are having a hard time keeping up.
NEDA ULABY: Seventy billion dollars, that's 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.
BILL GORMAN: They not only measure who is watching what programs but they measure they average viewing of the commercials in those programs.
ULABY: Bill Gorman's blog is called "TV By The Numbers." Pretty much all it does is look at Nielsen ratings.
GORMAN: The revenue potential of a show is all that matters.
ULABY: Networks are businesses, Gorman says, and they want to sell commercials.
GORMAN: That's 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.
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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 show's creator.
KURT SUTTER: 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.
KATE SIRKIN: 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 It's part of a consortium of powerful ad agencies and TV networks. It's pressuring Nielsen to adapt to a new flipped around business model where people don't always watch TV on TV.
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.
SIRKIN: We want to know what a consumer is doing, understanding, when we're paying for advertising, how many people saw our commercials.
ULABY: Soon, Nielsen promises it'll 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.
STEVE HASKER: 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: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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