Nielsen says it can measure viewing figures for streaming shows, Netflix disagrees


TechSpot Editor
Staff member

We know that Netflix shows such as Stranger Things and House of Cards are immensely popular, but only the streaming service itself knows exactly how many people watch its content. Nielsen, which has been monitoring US TV viewer numbers for decades, says that’s about to change, thanks to its new Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) Content Ratings service. Netflix, however, disagrees.

Netflix has never been open to discussing how many people watch its shows. “Once we give a number for a show, then every show will be benchmarked off of that show even though they were built sometimes for very specific audiences,” said chief content officer Ted Sarandos last year.

Nielsen says it will measure Netflix’s ratings using audio recognition software in the 44,000 US homes that contain its set meters. It will also be able to give an audience breakdown of the data, which includes viewers’ ages, and provide measurements “comparable to linear television data—including ratings, reach, frequency and segmentation reporting.”

The system only works with Netflix right now, but it is expected that Amazon Prime and Hulu will be added next year. Eight major television networks and production studios, including A&E Networks, Disney-ABC, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, and Warner Brothers, have already signed up to receive the information.

Netflix is convinced that the new service is far from precise. "The data that Nielsen is reporting is not accurate, not even close, and does not reflect the viewing of these shows on Netflix," the company said in a press statement.

The streaming site has a point. Netflix boasts over 52 million US subscribers but just a tiny fraction of them have Nielsen meters in their homes. The biggest caveat is that the service only monitors Netflix shows viewed on set-top boxes—it doesn’t measure views on devices such as mobiles, laptops, or tablets.

Permalink to story.


Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
The actual Neilson system was to place a recording box in your home, attached to your television. Using that method they could indeed provide measurements. Netflix apparently doesn't understand how easy it is to measure traffic remotely or simply does not want to participate. It's a common practice for providers who want to keep their ad revenue boosted when the ad market simply is not there. It's one of the reasons there is limited information in the Arbitron rates book; the cable companies and their providers don't want ANY diminished ad funding.
So...let me get this straight...Nielsen claims it can tell which shows you're watching from a streaming service, because it's going to record the ambient sound in your house while you're watching TV...

First off, I see a number of issues with this. First, that recording device is going to be a pain for customers participating in the program that have ISPs with data caps -- audio recordings & streams may be smaller files than video files, but they do take up some data. Assuming similar amounts to the old CD standards (~700-750MiB per hour of audio), assuming no compression is used you're looking at a data stream of about 4.2Mbps (1MiB --> 1.048576MB --> 8.388608Mb; 720MiB/hr = 12MiB/min = 0.5MiB/sec --> 4.194304Mbps) if uncompressed. Unless you've got super-fast connections (20Mbps or faster), that's going to be a major hit on your connection; I would feel really bad for those still stuck on DSL (even with major compression, they'd take a major data hit). Even if it waits to upload the data during a downtime, that's still going to go through their Internet connection. Which brings up the 2nd problem, as those people with data caps are going to have major issues. This time, let's assume they're able to compress the data with a 1:4 ratio (so 1 hour of audio would only take up 180MB of storage). If you watch an average of 2 hours of TV during the week, & 4 hours on weekends, that's 18 hours of audio, which works out to 3,240MB (or 3.24GB) of data each week. In a month you'd be using almost 13GB of your data -- & that's just for these audio files, & wouldn't include any of the other data (like the data you used to watch the programs in the first place).

Then there's all of the processing that Nielsen will have to do on their end. Are they going to have people listen to the audio files to determine what program was watched? Or are they going to have some massive computer matching program try to do it? Said program would require a massive database of the audio from every movie & TV program available through the streaming channels & networks -- & while there's a lot of duplication among them (especially for items old enough that copyrights have lapsed or are low enough that the "free" channels can afford the fees), that's still a huge amount (& let's not forget that Netflix may only allow some of their library to be available at a time, Amazon has not only the free Prime videos but also the ones you can purchase or rent). Not to mention I'm sure that the various studios & production companies wouldn't be very happy about having their audio tracks available in a single source, even if it is Nielsen holding it.

And we haven't even reached the uber-creepy/super-intrusive part: that just like Amazon Echo, it's listening to you all of the time. I seriously doubt Nielsen will rely on people remembering to turn the recording device on & off as needed, as they'd be afraid of missing someone's viewing habits, so it would almost certainly be some sort of "always on" device. Oh, sure, it probably won't be recording while there's no sound in the room...but I strongly suspect that they'll have to set the sensitivity so that regular conversations are picked up even when the TV isn't turned on. That not only increases the amount of audio to go through, it means they'll be able to hear your private & personal conversations.

What's that you say? They can build some sort of pass-through device that'll just read the audio stream from the device as it travels to the TV, so that it doesn't record your own voices? Sure, that would long as you only have one connection for the audio. For example, we have a Roku stick in our living room TV, & a Roku box in the bedroom. We also have DVD players in each room...but while both Rokus use HDMIs, neither DVD player uses that (living room uses component, bedroom uses RCA). And although we haven't used it for that purpose for some time, our Wii still has Netflix & Amazon Prime Video loaded on it, & it uses a separate HDMI connection. Should we end up getting an XBox One in the future, it'll also use a separate HDMI connection. So either Nielsen would have to build a device with multiple pass-through options on it (increasing the complexity & cost of said device), but there will be a practical limit as to how many connections said device would be able to handle (meaning that they'll still need to provide multiple devices to some households). And the question then becomes whether Nielsen is making enough money from adding streaming networks to their tracking to make up for the added expense.
  • Like
Reactions: Reehahs


Welcome to the New World, where we are each being surveiled 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, by persons we don't know, for purposes we are not sure of.
You play with the Post Office mail and you can end up in jail. Now it seems, everything we do on our devices (smartphone), computers (Win 10), homes (Alexa and their ilk), are recorded, tracked and sold and we are told nada, zero, zip. You think if they want to invade my privacy to monetize me (this assumes the best of these data collectors), they could at least cut me in for a piece of the pie LOL


TS Rookie
It can't hope to be accurate by monitoring the sound at my television only. I have 3 children with their own devices that watch Netflix in various locations inside and out. In fact, pretty much the only ones to use the TV to watch (I have a HTPC hooked to it, no cable for quite a while) anything are my wife and me.