Nielsen and comScore will never see eye-to-eye and that goes doubly for the numbers they report. While comScore said some 174 million Americans viewed online video last month, Nielsen states it’s only 144.2 million, or billion if you were to take their chart at face value. But since we know there aren’t 144 billion Americans (you do know that, right?), we’ll go with the first number. The same chart also says that time per viewer was only 4:41 (mm:ss) so it seems that whomever made that chart needs some practice and perhaps some extra math classes.

Hard to Chart Progress when the Chart is Wrong

Here’s the chart in question from the March 2011: Top Online Video Brands in U.S. report by Nielsen. As you can see, they say that the unique viewers is in thousands and then list 144,201,000 which would really be 144,200(000) I imagine. The same goes with Streams (because according to them it’s trillions) and I’m guessing that their time per viewer is average and it’s actually 4 hours and 41 minutes. And they wonder why I blast them for poor numbers reporting? Perhaps they need some lessons in  preparation and how to accurately report numbers in a table. Tsk tsk, I wonder how they’re asking companies for money when they report with such lackadaisical regard for accuracy in their reports. I took a screenshot of the report’s page over at their blog, so no one could say I’m hate-mongering against them. Here’s the image from the blog notice that first chart there (reproduced below).

Overall Online Video Usage (U.S.)
Mar-11MOM % Change
Unique Viewers (000)144,201,0003.6%
Total Streams (000)14,532,416,0007.0%
Streams per Viewer100.83.3%
Time per Viewer (min)4:418.0%
Source: The Nielsen Company

The text of their report is a bit more accurate, for them. 144.2 million viewers, 14,5 billion streams, both of which are up from their February numbers but still far below those of comScore (except for streams which comScore doesn’t really report and I wish they would since sessions is such a vague and useless statistic).

Unique Viewers Viewed Uniquely

While Nielsen says YouTube is on top with 111.9 million unique viewers they have VEVO in second and AOL in seventh with just 11.2 million users. Comparing them with comScore shows dramatic differences:

Video BrandUnique Viewers
Unique Viewers
AOL Media Network11,21557,006
The CollegeHumor Network11,199
CNN Digital Network9,603
Fox Interactive Media9,238
Viacom Digital48,696
Turner Digital41,718
NBC Universal31,052

There’s also massive disparity between their unique viewer numbers for the top ten video brands. In fact, They don’t even agree on three of them. Considering that Nielsen lists FOX and CNN as having less than 10 million unique visitors and the College Humor Network tops them both, I would take that with a pinch of salt (not just a grain) and put more credence in the comScore numbers which make more sense to me. Plus, Nielsen says that CNN had 60% growth month-to-month meaning that in February they had only 6 million UV.

Really what this makes me wonder is: Do companies pay comScore and Nielsen to be tracked and included in these reports? Because that’s really the only way I can justify the disparity here. Viacom, Turner and NBCU don’t pay Nielsen but do pay comScre, vice versa for FOX, CNN and CHN I guess.

Total Streams versus Total Sessions

Whatever happened to reporting online video in terms of actual views? Streams, Sessions, they use anything but actual views. Streams could be construed as views, but what if you queue several videos and they play non-stop. Is that one stream or several? Does 14.5 billion video views sound like a logical number? It would be 324,820.8 streams per minute for the entire month if you were to divide that by Nielsen’s 144.2 million viewers it’s 100.6ish streams. If the average length of a video was 5.2 minutes (comScore) it would be 523.12 minutes or 8.72 hours almost double Nielsen’s number of 4 hours and 41 minutes.

Nielsen says YouTube had 8.2 billion streams in March and comScore says about 2 billion sessions. So then does that mean that online video viewers watched 4.1 videos per session at YouTube? It would make sense, if streams are in fact video views, which we can’t be certain of actually.

More Division in Time Per Viewer

I have to believe that companies pay to be included in the reports. Because Nielsen shows that Netflix is the top site in terms of Time per viewer with some 9 hours and 53 minutes average for the month while YouTube only has 4.6 hours average according to comScore. It’s a drastically lowew 2.33 hours at YouTube according to Nielsen.

Hulu get 5 hours 13 minutes according to Nielsen while comScore has them at 3 hours and 36 minutes roughly. And those are the only two that we can compare because Nielsen doesn’t report the time per viewer for any other site that comScore does, further proving my hypothesis.

Industry Call to Action

If you are one of the companies mentioned in these reports and you really do want to get a good idea of where you stand in the world of online video, then it’s time for you to take control of the situation and tell these two to get their acts together. If you actually do pay to be tracked and included in the reports then I think at the very least you should be able to set forth the statistics that are reported. It’s OK, we won’t use them against you. In fact, it would be nice to have some reliable numbers that were actually useful. I know that people from both Nielsen and comScore read these, I’ve been contacted by both sides and been told I need ‘clarification on some thing,’ but what we really need clarification on is their reporting practices I think because these are supposedly the two largest and best research firms in the world and they can’t even agree on some simple numbers.

If we take a quick peek at the numbers side-by-side:

  • Total unique viewers vary by 17.1% – Nielsen reporting far lower than comScore.
  • Average time viewing per viewer varies a stunning 3.2x  with Nielsen at 4.62 hours and comScore at 14.82.
  • comScore reports on video ads (good for all of us here), Nielsen reports on Total Streams, not really all that useful.
  • comScore gives percentage reach of U.S. Population for video ads, Nielsen reports on…well nothing of the sort.
  • Nielsen reports on three metrics really: avg time per viewer, total unique viewers viewers, number of streams (that being sort of useless)
  • comScore reports on seven metrics: avg time per viewer, total unique viewers, number of video ads, total ad minutes, ads per viewer average, % reach of total US population, total sessions (almost completely useless).

In terms of usefulness there are two useful metrics that they both report on and an additional four interesting online video ad metrics that comScore covers while Nielsen has nothing.

I for one think it’s time to re-think all these online video statistics reporting and to that end will take action myself. Hopefully, some of you will join me in this in the near future and help get some better reporting that is more useful to the industry as a whole in order to get realistic snapshots of what online video really looks like and what we can hopefully look forward to.