Media research and tracking firm Nielsen announced on Monday that it was planning to add live tablet and smartphone viewings of television programs to its television rating system.
The change is long overdue: mobile device ownership and video streaming is on the rise. (Video watching is the third-most popular activity on mobile devices, based on time spent.) A survey by McKinsey found that the number of minutes spent in front of a television set has been reduced by 20% in the past five years.
However, time spent watching videos on a tablet still pales in comparison to time spent in front of the TV. Traditional TV viewing ate up 144 hours and 54 minutes per month per person on average, compared to 5 hours and 20 minutes a month spent on online video. But the availability of a single measure to calculate television and mobile viewing could encourage television networks to make more programs available for online streaming, and increase mobile viewership even more.
What the Nielsen metrics will fail to measure, however, is delayed viewing. Flexibility is one of the draws of tablet viewing versus television viewing, and a recent AdAge article reported consistent decline in the 10 p.m. viewing slot. Among the theories for the decline: DVR and other methods for catching up. Watching television shows is the third most popular activity on tablets behind movies and user generated content.
The availability of television shows online and on mobile allows for viewing habits that deviate from the traditional primetime model. Any new tracking model that claims to be more accurate than previous ones must take those changes into account.