Nielsen, the media rating giant, recently launched www.heynielsen.com, 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, Billboard.com, HollywoodReporter.com and BlogPulse.com 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...