By the Nielsen company’s count, 7.8 million people watched Amazon Prime’s coverage of last Thursday’s NFL game between New Orleans and Arizona. But Amazon says no, there were actually 8.9 million people watching…
Neither company is saying the other is wrong, but neither is backing down, either. The result is confusion, most notably for advertisers.
Nielsen, as it has for years, follows the viewing habits in a panel of homes across the country and, from that limited sample, derives an estimate of how many people watch a particular program. That number is currency in the media industry, meaning it is used to determine advertising rates.
Amazon, in the first year of an 11-year contract to stream Thursday night games, says it has an actual count of every one of its subscribers who streams it — not an estimate. The games are also televised in the local markets of the participating teams, about 9% of its total viewership each week, and Amazon uses Nielsen’s estimate for that portion of the total…
But with Netflix about to introduce advertising, that can all change very rapidly. And if other companies develop technology that can measure viewing more precisely, the precedent has now been set for publicly disputing Nielsen’s numbers.
There could be multiple methodological issues at play here. One involves who has a more accurate count. If Amazon can directly count all viewers, that could be the more accurate number. However, not all television providers have that ability. A second concern is how different providers might count viewership. Does Amazon reveal everything about its methods? Nielsen is an independent organization that theoretically has less self-interest in its work.
All of this has implications for advertisers, as noted above, but it also gets at understandings of how many people today view or consume particular cultural products. Much has been said about the fragmentation of culture industries with people having the ability to find all sorts of works. Accurate numbers help us make sense of the media landscape and uncover patterns. Would competing numbers or methods lead to very different narratives about our collective consumption and experiences?