September 29, 2007
Hey! Nielsen--What's the Metric?

Nielsen, the media rating giant, recently launched, a site where anyone with an internet connection can set up a profile and comment on TV, movies, web sites, personalities and music. What makes this different from the millions of fan sites and blogs already online is that - it's well, Nielsen, a name that carries a fair bit of clout - but also that it's using data from its other properties,, and to develop the Hey! Nielsen Score which, according to the website, is "a real-time indicator of a topic's impact, influence, and value". Rather than deliver a single number and ranking, I will argue that the site's purpose is ultimately less obvious and more strategic.

The concept itself isn't exactly new. The company has had a product called BuzzMetrics for at least a year now, a measurement tool that gauges reactions in user-generated media to specific products. There are products with similar aims on the market from other companies as well.

Is this a solution to the debate on what marketers and media producers can do with the dizzying amount of information from consumers online? Having spoken to a number of big companies in the entertainment and retail industries on this topic for a project I worked on last year, common themes emerged when it came to compiling information from blogs, message boards and other sites on the web where consumers could leave comments: very interesting, we do look at it, but it doesn't factor into our decision making.

The problem was that the samples were considered not representative enough of their consumers or the general population to use for decision-making purposes. They already had market research apparatus in place to conduct surveys and focus groups and go through the professional media, and that, they felt, was enough for now.

What's interesting about Hey! Nielsen, given those concerns, is that it doesn't solve the problem of skewed samples, it actually compounds it. Reading about the site in Variety last week, a Nielsen exec said that they were using the site to cultivate fan/enthusiast participation by offering them more clout by association with the Nielsen brand, and to build awareness of the brand among young people to help them recruit younger audiences as Nielsen families for the traditional in-home rating service. Of course, I would question if the current metrics would even capture the younger demos who may well be more likely have TiVos, tape programs, or watch them online, but that's another story altogether.

Moreover, the Hey! Nielsen Score is somewhat opaque - we're not sure what's going into it or how it's quantified and weighted to come up with a single number, something that Nielsen addresses somewhat sarcastically on the site. I actually don't think the site is about that one number or the rankings within the different categories.

I think that Hey! Nielsen is interesting for three reasons. First, because it signals a desire to work with fan groups and give them extra clout, something that I believe echoes a change in attitude in the industry as it tries to quantify things other than eyeballs to sell to advertisers, like viewer engagement. And who can be more engaged than a fan?

The second reason is that it signals a move towards more diverse measurement from an online group. As you can see on the site, measurement is based on both quantitative measures, like the Score and poll results, and qualitative data, i.e. the comments from users, displayed alongside each other. I do think that we will see more and more of that type of data presented to both networks and advertisers as consumption patterns for TV content grow more complex.

The third and final reason Hey! Nielsen is an interesting move is that it is seeking to build a more direct, trusting relationship with an audience that probably has fought in the past to keep the shows they wanted on air because of low ratings. They are supposedly letting them share in the influence that Nielsen enjoys in the industry, and essentially make themselves even more of a mediator between audiences and content producers. As we've seen before on this blog and elsewhere, owning some of that relationship with the end consumer is vital in securing one's position in an environment where the value chain is looking a little fragile.

Will this site fly as a metric, or just build strategy and relationships for the future? Both? Neither? Stay tuned...



Eleanor, this comes alongside the news that Nielsen will triple its sample size, as I wrote about earlier this week. You make good points about how this will serve as a great testing ground for ways to take into account this type of online audience feedback. It's going to be worth keeping an eye on. I'm sure there will be a lot of revisions alogn the way, if this is going to be a longterm viable service, but it's another attempt to find a balance between the need to change the way measurements are done and the difficulty of quantifying often very qualitative data.


Eleanor, like you I'm excited by the prospects that television is caring more about fandom, though I'm also a bit conflicted in worrying about how these numbers get used. I posted about this over here on The Extratextuals


As someone who became privy to the site via its TV Blogs contest, having been lucky enough to be selected as one of its entrants, I've found it fascinating to see how it has developed since its public beta launch.

More specifically, I find it interesting to see how the fan groups have responded. I've spoken to both Jericho and Supernatural fans about their experience, and although they're happy to have a new outlet they still aren't entirely sure what good they're doing.

Until there are some sort of results from their actions, I don't foresee fandom sticking around Hey! Nielsen for long. they need to quantify their efforts, and quickly, to keep the site relevant.

On October 9, 2007 at 6:50 PM, Eleanor Baird said:

Jonathan, thanks for your comments.

I completely agree that Nielsen is doing this primarily as a way to feed more information to networks and advertisers - that's the business they're in. And I agree that the way that audiences are valued is somewhat flawed. However, I do still think that Hey! Nielsen is at least an attempt to talk directly to audiences and gather their input, and an acknowledgment that things have changed and that metrics can and should be revamped. And, rather than just trawl blogs and lurk in chat rooms, I don't see anything inherently wrong in asking people directly about what they like and letting whoever is interested participate. I think Myles makes a good point, that a lot of the reaction to Hey!Nielsen stems from it being "corporate" and not knowing really how it works or what difference you're actually making by going there.

For me, your post raises some interesting questions about the implicit contract between audiences, networks and advertisers to share information. I don't have a good answer to that right now, and I think it will need to be worked out as the various players establish how they fit into the new logics and economics of the industry.

You raised questions in your post about audience measurement and representativeness of the samples, and they are good questions. I think it may have more to do with how they choose their sample or construct their confidence intervals than the sheer number of people/households in the current sample, but I don't think that that information is readily available. One thing that sort of perplexes me about Hey! Nielsen is that the sample there is self-selecting, so I would question how representative a sample Hey!Nielsen users are of the general TV-watching population, which goes back to the question of what the data can really be used for.