The common definition of television is “a system for transmitting visual images and sound that are reproduced on screens, chiefly used to broadcast programs for entertainment,” but up until now, Nielsen’s definition of television only included those screens in your televisions, bedrooms, and in the cubbyhole of your kitchen. It didn’t matter that many — maybe most — of us now watch television on our tablets, smart phones, and laptops. However, starting in September, according to THR, Nieslen FINALLY expects to have hardware and software in place to capture viewership on our other devices that deliver video from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, or our X-Boxes and PlayStations. Video viewing on iPads and smart phones will also be fully incorporated by the end of the year.
It’s a huge step forward for Nielsen, and a much needed one with broadcast and cable networks beginning to grumble that the full viewership of their television programs were not being accounted for. We should see an immediate rise in the numbers of viewers, and my guess is that much of that will skew in favor TV shows geared toward younger audiences. Shows like Arrow, New Girl and Pretty Little Liars — which already have significant viewership on iTunes — will likely close the gap with older skewing shows like NCIS and CSI, although Modern Family and The Walking Dead will probably see even greater gains in relation to everything else.
The next step, I think, would be to erase the distinction between cable and broadcast television. Obviously, we can already compare one to another, but with shows like The Walking Dead regularly dominating broadcast ratings, and networks like NBC that place SEVENTH on certain nights behind cable networks, they should probably begin to be measured in relation to each other.
The change, for the record, won’t immediately allow us to know how many people are watching a show like House of Cards because Netflix still has to incorporate Nielsen ratings into their system.
Likewise, for what it’s worth, although the Emmy Awards have technically included services such as YouTube and Netflix for awards consideration since 2008, TV Guide posits that this year — thanks House of Cards and Arrested Development — may be the first in which shows that don’t air on conventional networks will receive Emmy nominations. Expect those changes to crowd out even more broadcast programs, which were already shut out of the drama competition at the most recent Emmys.
All of which is to say: It may be a good time to be a struggling broadcast network like NBC. They can be the first to adapt to the new landscape, give up the ridiculous notion to capture a broad swath of viewers, and focus on quality programming that will play well across all devices.