Hulu Insight: Streaming Isn’t Solitary – Why OTT Audience Measurement is Mission Critical

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When the broadcast networks first started streaming full TV episodes it was in the PC-only environment of 2006, and it changed the TV landscape forever.  Shows like ABC’s “Lost” and NBC’s “Heroes” were available to watch for free online.  For viewers, it meant they could watch at their own convenience.  For networks, it helped keep audiences engaged in the current cycle of the linear ecosystem.  And for marketers, it provided a one-to-one connection with consumers and the opportunity for interactivity within premium content.

In the years that followed, mobile emerged as a video viewing platform, combining portability with personalization.  Then the iPad was released in 2010 and the tablet was poised to become the first screen for the connected consumer … until something interesting happened.  The pendulum swung and technology emerged to allow viewers to watch untethered video on the screen plugged into the wall in their living rooms:  the oversized, HD-enabled TV set.  Streaming video came to the best available screen in the home, and viewers shifted in droves.

By 2014, just over half of Hulu viewing was on a TV set, and nearly a third was on PCs.  Today, we’re seeing three quarters of Hulu viewing via connected devices in living rooms, while PCs have, for the first time, dropped into the single digits at 9%.  It is not exactly a revelation that people want to watch TV shows on a TV set, but the transformation is significant in terms of the audience and measurement implications it presents.

Television is a medium for shared experiences:  families and friends have gathered together in their living rooms for decades, and that’s proven no different for shows that are streamed and binged on demand.  In fact, it’s easier to gather and watch on your own time.  Research from Hulu indicates that 2 out of 3 of our viewers watch with someone else at least once per week, and 1 in 5 do so daily.  59% watch with a partner or spouse, 31% with children, another 30% with friends or other family members.  We also know that our viewers are more likely to choose Hulu over regular TV when they are relaxing with loved ones (58% vs 29%) or when they gather with family (47% vs 38%).

We know that people watch Hulu together, but until recently, the mechanism has not existed to explicitly measure those audiences. Therefore, an ad impression – the opportunity for a commercial to be seen – has been counted in the same way as traditional digital models (ie: PC and mobile):  by the screen.  But with viewers overwhelmingly gathering in living rooms, it is mission critical to accurately measure those eyeballs.  First, to enable more holistic, consistent measurement across platforms and second, to provide better insight for advertisers on the total reach, frequency and efficacy of their streaming campaigns.

To that end, last year Hulu announced a partnership with Nielsen to create a solution and extend Digital Ad Ratings (DAR) to the living room.  Through this solution, we can now we can now get complete measurement of viewership to streaming campaigns across all connected devices – all verified by a trusted 3rd-party source.  Nielsen’s methodology tags, collects, and calibrates the data, leveraging Hulu’s robust 1st-party subscriber data and other 3rd-party sources as the foundation for measurement. This solution represents a sea change in the way that digital streaming has traditionally been measured and a giant leap forward in the pursuit of holistic cross-platform audience validation.

The proliferation of digital full episode players brought with it implications for audiences and marketers alike.  And with TV viewing via connected devices emerging as the mode of choice, it’s time the industry followed suit:  disrupt the current model and adopt measurement and validation to the evolved TV viewing landscape.

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