Nielsen is on the boat, or just dragging behind it like an anchor it seems, when it comes to tracking online video usage and growth. comScore has been providing us with monthly glimpses into the online video viewing scene for some time now. Nielsen is just starting to give us some data, which I will refrain from calling good.

I was hoping to wait another day or two and compare both January 2011 data sets, but comScore didn’t drop their monthly Video Metrix today (being the 15th) like normal. Maybe they were too busy with their yearly round ups to get it out the door on time or perhaps they were too busy with the V-day. Either way, I grew impatient and so here we are with Nielsen’s numbers with comparisons to comScore’s December 2010 numbers. It’ll still be fairly accurate, well as accurate as it can be when comparing apples to oranges.

January 2011: Online Video Usage Up 45%

Nielsen says that viewership only grew some 3.1% since January 2010 and lists unique viewers for the first month of this year at 143.9 Million. That’s some 30 Million less than the standard numbers coming from comScore. Nielsen is also reporting a 31.5% increase in streams which they estimate were 14.5 Billion for the month and that viewing time is up 44.5% to 279 minutes per user, or 4 hours 39 minutes as opposed to comScore who said for December, 14.6 hours per person…

Uh oh Lucy, you have some ‘splainin’ to do…

So Nielsen and comScore have never seen eye-to-eye. There have always been discrepancies in the numbers of the two research giants but this just seems ridiculous. The gap here is so wide that even an Olympic pole vaulter couldn’t cover it. 4:39 versus 14:33 looks more like two random numbers than two well-researched numbers.

So who’s telling the truth? Well, probably neither, or both. It’s hard to say since they don’t really make us 100% privy to how either of them come up with these numbers. Historically, Nielsen has used panels, which I never put a lot of faith in, so I don’t know that I’m surprised by their numbers being so disagreeably low.

Who Netted the Most Eyeballs?

It sounds sort of gross when I write it like that. It sounds like the online video platforms are running around with butterfly nets scooping the flying eyeballs out of the air with deft swipes of the nets, no?

Well that’s not really what it means, of course.

Top Online Video Brands by Unique Viewers (January 2011, U.S.)

Video BrandUnique Viewers (000)MOM % Change in Viewers
The CollegeHumor Network10,020-2.4%
AOL Media Network9,236-4.5%
Fox Interactive Media7,5971.6%
Read as: During January 2011, 112.8 million unique U.S. viewers watched video content on YouTube using PC/Mac/laptops from home and work locations

Now Nielsen, unlike comScore, states YouTube and not Google sites in their report. No matter the name, the results are the same, YouTube leads the way. After that it gets a little screwy. Again there’s a discrepancy in the numbers as comScore states 144.8 Million UV for Google Sites. So we could take that to mean that 32.8 Million use Google for video and the rest YouTube, or not. Considering the massive difference between the time per viewer per month, I’m tempted to say that Nielsen’s research has a larger margin of error.

After GooTube they then list Facebook as having 32.3M viewers where comScore lists 41.1M. Nielsen says VEVO has about the same as Facebook while Yahoo! has only 25.5M versus comScore’s 50.6M and 53M respectively. Considering Yahoo! but the kibosh on their video, I suspect that comScore will show a drastic drop for January there as well.

Proof is in the Pudding They say

Read this table:

comScore December 2010 vs. Nielsen January 2011 Online Video Viewers
PropertyTotal Unique Viewers comScore (000)Total Unique Viewers Nielsen (000)Difference (%)
Total Internet : Total Audience172,109143,930-16.37
Google Sites144,757112,764-22.1
Yahoo! Sites53,05025,511-51.9
AOL, Inc.48,5509,236-80.98
Viacom Digital45,880
Microsoft Sites36,58917,285-52.76
Fox Interactive Media28,9027,597-73.7
Turner Digital26,943

So as you can see, the numbers vary wildly between the two research firms. From the smallest margin of 21.4% for Facebook to a whopping 80.98% difference between the AOL numbers.

I really don’t know what to make of the numbers that Nielsen is pushing out here so I am just simply going to give you the rest with comparisons to the comScore December 2010 numbers.

Nielsen January 2011 vs comScore December 2010 average min./viewer for Top brands
Video BrandNielsen (hh:mm)comScore (hh:mm)
Nickelodeon Family & Parents2:06

Well that didn’t work out so well. Nielsen seems to have completely different ideas of top brands for online video versus what comScore says. ComScore’s top ten included: Google, Yahoo!, VEVO, AOL, Viacom Digital, Facebook, Microsoft, FOX, Turner and Hulu. Nielsen had a bunch of sites that I can see being Top Brands by any stretch. StageVU I have never seen show up in any kind of research, is the so-called Chinese YouTube. In fact, I can’t even get StageVU’s website to come up for me today. Megavideo has flirted with the comScore top ten from time to time but never been stable and CWTV?!

Don’t even get me started about CWTV, read my recent Open Letter to Broadcasters to find out what I think of them in general.

I’m tempted, though I have absolutely no basis or proof, to say that Nielsen seems to only track so-called top brands that perhaps pay them for inclusion in this research. If that’s the case, then more big video properties online are not paying them than are or, more big video platforms are paying comScore and not Nielsen.

Here’s one last graph that Nielsen put into its report. Take it or leave it as you see fit:

Top Online Video Brands by Total Streams (000) (January 2011, U.S.)
Video BrandTotal Streams (000)MOM % Change in Streams
Nickelodeon Family & Parents136,5557.4%
MTV Networks Music133,53579.1%
Read as: During January 2011, 8.5 billion videos were streamed on YouTube

HA! Alright, it’s not in my blood to just give you the numbers and not comment (Mark asked me once to write a light fluffy story for Saturday, it was 1,000 words…). Hulu, according to Nielsen has 11.9M viewers and 813M streams or 68.3 streams per unique viewer. Now, Nielsen also says that the average user at Hulu watched 5:35 or 335 minutes so that means the average length of the average stream by the average viewer at Hulu was 4.9 minutes… I find that hard to believe given that Hulu is mostly TV content in the 22-48 minute range.

What We Have Here: A Failure to Communicate

It’s absolutely absurd that two so very large and very prominent research firms would have such wildly varying numbers. It throws the numbers into stark contrast and makes me believe that neither can be trusted. In fact, without knowing their exact methodology and sampling rates I can’t even begin to give you a margin of error on either one.

My advice to them is to get their houses in order. There are obviously some problems in one, the other or both methods if they can’t even come within 20% of each other on the number of people watching video on Facebook.

What we apparently need, is a full industry survey that compiles direct data from video sites, gets compiled by someone who doesn’t have any kind of vested interest, say me, is paid by a company that doesn’t care what the numbers say, good luck finding that one,