Nielsen admits to 18 months of YouTube online ratings mistakes

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 27 August 2016
Sourced: Google Brandcast 2015

Nielsen has been under-reporting YouTube desktop ratings by up to half, in its Online Ratings over the last 18 months, AdNews can reveal.

The measurement body has been working with Google to rectify the situation over recent weeks. As of the July data which is published today (27 August) all YouTube data reported is correct.

The issue arose because from January 2015, Nielsen’s on-device meter was not capturing tags from panellists on updated versions of web browsers such as Chrome and Internet Explorer. Since that date, as increasing numbers of people updated their browsers, the gap gradually widened from 5% and reaching as much as 45% being unreported.

It means that since January 2015, incorrect data has been informing agency and advertiser perceptions of user behaviour that has influenced decisions on spend. 

YouTube data was only affected in Nielsen's Hybrid Streaming ratings – not its monthly Digital Ratings. No other publisher or sites were affected.

It's not possible to go back and retrospectively report the correct numbers, but using the correct data for July, it's possible to extrapolate what the gap was likely to be.

Wrongly attributed to mobile

The declines had originally been wrongly attributed to the migration of users to mobile devices. Nielsen says this was validated by its monthly Digital Ratings data, which showed YouTube's total cross-device audience growing by around 61% from the inclusion of mobile audiences. 

Google says the reliance on this data for media planning makes it a “very concerning” issue, although it recognises Nielsen's transparency in handling the issue. Google had questioned the declines when they began being reported, but was satisfied with the explanation given at the time.

Google's IAB representative, Lisa Bora, tells AdNews: “The announcement ... was very concerning, especially considering the importance the industry places on this data for media planning.”

“It is important clients have access to accurate data to inform their marketing decisions. Online video, including YouTube, has been growing very strongly and with consumer behaviour evolving so quickly we have seen third party measurement struggle to keep pace across screens. Google is working closely with our third party partners and the IAB to address this issue and to improve measurement standards across the industry.”  

The error only serves to emphasise that with such a fast pace of change it's beholden on all parties, from the IAB, measurement bodies, agencies, advertisers and digital platforms to be vigilant and work even more closely to ensure a robust measurement framework is in place.

Nielsen has held its hand up to the mistake becaue it believes it has a duty to be transparent in the market as digital cross platform measurement evolves. Nielsen head of media Monique Perry tells AdNews Nielsen is working constantly with the IAB to improve its measurement products.

“We accept that there will be issues along the way as we build an incredibly technical and advanced digital measurement solution. Our job is to accept responsibility for any problems we encounter, find a workable solution for our stakeholders and communicate our plans regularly and openly to the market. That is exactly what the team has done in this situation,” she says.

Additional auditing

To safeguard against any future reporting errors of this magnitude the IAB and Nielsen will undertake a process audit on current and forthcoming ratings products.

Vijay Solanki, CEO of the IAB, says: "This will add an additional layer of due diligence to the development of the metrics to ensure the most up to date and accurate digital measurement in the market.”

Solanki, who has only been in the seat as CEO of the IAB for six weeks, was clued in on the issue during his second week in the job.

He says: “Having been made aware of the issue in my second week as CEO, I was pleased to see how swiftly Nielsen moved to resolve the issue and how transparent and collaborative everyone involved has been. Nielsen currently measures over 4,000 apps and 21,000 websites each month to produce these metrics. It is an incredibly complex task and produces one of the most sophisticated measurement systems in the world.”

Monthly digital ratings were introduced in March this year, but the Hybrid Streaming ratings do not currently reflect mobile audiences consuming digital video content as it relies on computer-only data for digital video measurement. Daily Digital Content Ratings are currently in beta phase and will be launched to market in the coming months. It will provide cross-digital device coverage across all content types - video, text and audio. YouTube is on board as a beta partner.

Bora added: “Whilst it’s positive to now have a more accurate picture for desktop trends, we know more and more consumers are watching video on mobile - in Australia and over half of YouTube watch time happens on mobile devices - which underscores the importance of the introduction of Nielsen Digital Content Ratings (DCR) to capture audience behaviour across all devices.”

“Nielsen have assured ourselves and IAB Australia that the reporting issue has been rectified and July data now correctly reflects the strength of YouTube on desktop. We thank Nielsen for being open and transparent with us since the issue was identified.”

The July data – which is correct – shows 10.7 billion minutes of video was streamed on desktop. YouTube accounts for half of all minutes of video consumed on desktop, and was viewed at least once by 76% of people who streamed video in July 2016.

July News Sites Digital Ratings

In the digital ratings numbers released today (Sat), Australian news sites reached record online audiences, topping six million uniques for the first time.

The jump is in part down to interest in the 2 July election. ABC News jumped to the top spot with 6.5million uniques - a 30% hike versus June figures. It also saw a 75% jump in mobile audience. jumped 14% to 6.2 million ahead of, which sits third in the table with a 6% increase month on month. The Age returned to the top 10 rankings with a 12% increase in unique audience, and a 37% increase in mobile., which relaunched only recently, is in at fourth, ahead of both Daily Mail and the Guardian. July’s data also show’s Nine’s relaunched site, which no longer counts former traffic from MSN sites, with the longest time spent a 58 minutes 41 seconds – almost three times as long as spent on ABC sites.

Alex Parsons, chief digital and marketing officer of Nine Entertainment, said the improvement in audience was “a clear vindication of the Nine digital strategy” following its split from Microsoft in 2013.

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