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Summary:

The issue of audience measurement discrepancies has long plagued online publishers. While most have made peace between their internal number…

imageThe issue of audience measurement discrepancies has long plagued online publishers. While most have made peace between their internal numbers and the usually lower ones reported by Nielsen and comScore (NSDQ: SCOR), NYT reports that in the case of Hulu, the wildly divergent figures appear to be more vexing than usual for both Hulu and advertisers alike.

The March tallies from Nielsen say that the video site received 8.9 million uniques that month, while comScore reported 42 million for the same period. Apart from those inconsistent counts, things only get more confusing in April. According to Nielsen, last month, Hulu served up 373 million video streams, charting a steady growth trend from March’s 348 million and February’s 309 million. At the same time, Nielsen claims that Hulu is seeing declining numbers of unique visitors month to month: in February, the audience measurement firm says Hulu had 9.5 million visitors in February. As for April, Hulu attracted just 7.4 million uniques, as per Nielsen. Meanwhile, another online measurement provider, Quantcast, has found no evidence of an audience decline at Hulu.

Of the Nielsen problems, Hulu diplomatically says “there is work to be done.” To some media buyers though, it only shows that measuring online video views is still an unreliable science. In addition to affecting advertising decisions, more months of declining traffic could make content companies more reluctant to place their videos on Hulu, though that didn’t seem to stop Disney from finally deciding to sign a deal that brings shows from the ABC broadcasting network, along with some cable channels, over to Hulu last month. But it could give CBS (NYSE: CBS), now one of the last major holdouts from the NBC Universal/NewsCorp. JV, another reason to keep its distance.

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  1. David, 2 mistakes in your normally great reporting.

    1) You refer to Nielsen talking of growing numbers as well as declining; for the former I think you were referring to Comscore.

    2) Your final sentence on CBS should be reason to keep their distance as opposed to what you outline.

  2. David Kaplan Saturday, May 16, 2009

    Thanks for the kind words and careful reading, Jason. The CBS line was corrected; as for Nielsen, here's part of the reason everyone is confused: Hulu's unique visits have been trending downward, while at the same time, the number of streams it has been generating have been rising — both sets of measurements are according to Nielsen.

  3. The internet is a worldwide service. If Hulu wants to continue to grow, they should take a look at sites like YouTube have done, and that is be available to the most number of eyeballs on the planet as possible. The only way to do this is remove geographic restrictions.

  4. I actually agree with Ryan. The number of people in the U.S. willing to watch TV online (as well as on demand) is actually relatively slim. They might be approaching that limit now.

    Making it international would really open their service up. Doubt they could get agreements with enough foreign content owners to do it, though.

  5. There is a bigger story here. Nielsen numbers are a joke.

    NYTimes disputes Nielsen ratings for April.
    http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003973868

  6. hmmm, it looks like Hulu was at 8.3 million in April in Comscore. Where does that 42 million figure come from? It sounds way too high.

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