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Gauging The Gauge: How Does the Nielsen CTV Metric Measure Up?

Daniel Manu
Daniel Manu  |  Director, Content Marketing
Updated: Apr. 08, 2022
Published: Jun. 22, 2021

After several years of attempts to measure the Connected TV universe, with mixed results, Nielsen launched a CTV metric called The Gauge in mid-June 2021 that aims to become the gold standard of measuring all of television – including streaming – in the same way the nearly century-old research firm’s eponymous TV ratings have dominated linear measurement for decades.

Here are our top takeaways from the launch of The Gauge:

The Gauge Is a Huge Step Forward, But Still Incomplete The Gauge is intended to be a monthly TV and streaming snapshot. According to The New York Times, to gather its stats on CTV consumption, Nielsen measured approximately 14,000 households “through a piece of hardware that observes internet traffic that passes through a router.”

This provides a clearer look at television viewership than has ever been available before in the steaming age. However, it’s still not a complete picture. That’s because The Gauge measures what is being viewed on TV screens but, as The Times notes, “does not count what is watched on phones or laptops.”

And as The Verge reported, it’s also unclear if The Gauge counts streams coming through “a gaming console that has its own internet connectivity and a physical connection to the TV — or, for that matter, streams from a secondary device that are cast to a TV.”

CTV Consumption Continues to Grow… In its announcement of the first Gauge snapshot, Nielsen put the emphasis on Connected Television, declaring that the data shows that “streaming is taking a seat at the table,” with streaming usage across all television homes climbing to 26% of all time spent on TV. And the number would be at least slightly higher if all CTV services were counted by Nielsen – as it is, data on HBO Max viewership, for example, is not included in The Gauge, as Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings very publicly noted.

… But Linear TV Still Dominates Compared to CTV’s 26% slice of the Nielsen pie, broadcast and cable still rule TV time in the United States, accounting for a whopping combined 64% of usage. As CNN’s Brian Stelter put it, “Streaming might take up three-fourths of the media world's attention, but right now it's only one-fourth of viewership time. Streaming might eventually cannibalize everything, but that day is a long way away.” (A shameful lack of broadband access for 82 million Americans isn’t helping matters.)

Nielsen's total TV and streaming pie chart for persons P2+

More Importantly, Ad-Supported TV Dominates Much of the media reaction to The Gauge has attempted to parse and shoehorn the data into its binary traditional TV vs. streaming narrative. But as far as marketers should be concerned, the real story is in the opportunities to reach audiences via advertising. And that’s where, as Simulmedia founder and CEO Dave Morgan pointed out, there’s an “even bigger disparity between linear TV and CTV when you look at ad-supported viewing, since most streaming services have no or few ads.”

Or to put it another way, between broadcast, cable and AVOD (such as Hulu, but missing the aforementioned HBO Max), The Gauge shows at least 67% of TV consumption occurring on platforms with advertising. Add YouTube to the mix and it’s up to 75%. While Netflix still outpaces its SVOD competitors like Disney+ by a factor of 6 to 1, the biggest takeaway for us here is that Americans at a mass level are happy to continue to be exposed to advertising while watching TV and video.

And now we can gauge that better than ever.

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