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Nielsen’s Cross-Platform Reporting: Now with Accurate Digital Consumption

The average American today has more ways to watch video – whenever, however and wherever they choose. Yet, the resounding trend is this: Americans are spending more time watching video content on traditional TVs than ever before. TV usage among all persons 2+ has increased from 154 hours 8 minutes per month in 4th Quarter of 2010 to 155 hours and 32 minutes per month in 4th Quarter of 2013, according to Nielsen’s 4Q13 Cross-Platform Report.

Nielsen’s report on consumers’ relationship with media is eagerly awaited each quarter for its ability to indicate changes in media consumption. This recent release was particularly illuminating because of Nielsen’s announcement to change its methodology in measuring and reporting mobile video. Previously relying on viewer surveys in which respondents recalled their behavior, Nielsen now uses metering devices in mobile phones which collect actual behavior. Because of this change, Nielsen restated the historical data for 4Q2012 so that the industry could better understand mobile viewing trends.

TVB, has been tracking the report’s findings for several years to better understand the implications of the data beyond quarter-to-quarter comparisons, however, and was able to compare the originally reported mobile viewing data based on consumer recall to the restated data based on device meters. The difference is striking. Nielsen’s restated figure for Time Spent with Mobile Video in 4Q2012 was 1 hour per month, a significant difference from the previously reported 5 hours and 23 minutes. This reveals a 5X overstatement when consumers are asked to recall their time spent versus actual device monitoring.

This disparity is an important reminder of the dangers inherent in trusting consumers’ claimed behavior and calls into question any of a number of recent studies that have proclaimed the demise of traditional media based on self-reported approximations of time spent with digital devices.

Just last week, the media reported on the results of The Off the Grid National Survey identifying how almost 30% of respondents claimed to have watched no live television at all, but 46% viewed content on the Internet and 44% watched programs on a DVR. That study, conducted by Google for Republican firm, Public Opinion Strategies and Democratic consultants, Global Strategy Group, was based on a claimed-response survey of media consumption. Reporters covering the study’s release hurried to attract attention by proclaiming the beginning of the end for traditional media, and focusing campaign strategists on the need to shift advertising investments away from an increasingly hard-to-reach TV viewer. It all makes for good press attention, but is it responsible to promote shifting ad dollars to a medium, that by world class metered measurement standards is delivering 9,332 minutes of consumption per month to mobile video’s 92 minutes?

And when you consider the voting demographics, specifically, Television is delivering 137X more minutes of exposure per voter than Smartphone Video and 20X more than Internet Video. By any logical measure, does the additional 23 minutes of time gained in the last year on mobile devices constitute an appreciable change in difficulty in reaching voters via television?

Marketers, media planners and buyers take heed. Make important media investment decisions on data that you can trust. Survey respondents can tell us many things about what they think and feel in order to inform “HOW” we message to them, but when it comes to relating matters of “HOW MUCH” they are fantastically inaccurate. There’s plenty of reliable, vetted behavioral data in our industry to inform media placement decisions. Let’s use it to the advantage of our clients instead of extolling bad research for the benefit of a big headline. It may be fashionable to report on dramatic shifts away from traditional media, but when playing with your client’s dollar it’s just not responsible.

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