One of the many April Fools joke postings yesterday involved a claim that Nielsen was abandoning “People Meters”, in favor of tracking audience viewing data via Facebook and Twitter posts. I fell for it long enough to think about the implications of such a move. April Fools Day, however, being the one day of the year that people critically evaluate news articles before accepting them as true, gave me pause. Once I cottoned on to the ruse, I was left with an abiding sense that an issue had been revisited that was far from resolved: Nielsen is obsolete as a tracking mechanism, and the various solutions they and their network clientele keep percolating are almost as useless as the systems currently in place.
The technology exists today to unobtrusively track actual viewing patterns and numbers, so why is Nielsen *still* extrapolating data points from subjective choice-oriented pools, such as Nilesen “diaries” and set-top boxes? Opting for social network-oriented insights would be just as subjective – even without taking in to consideration the fact that there is a drop off in usage of such apps as IntoNow, as people make a move toward reclaiming their privacy.
If IP is being patented to monetize ad-skipping, why not reward opt-ins for more granular tracking? One possible scenario: if viewers let DVR and live viewing data be recovered through hardware-embedded tracking tools, on an anonymous basis, they could get a certain number of credits. Increasing the demographic visibility of their viewership might increase their credits, and credits could be used toward ad skipping, network related bonus content, and so many other rewards. The possibilities are endless, and yet Nielsen et al prefer to look only as far as the end of their noses. The transparency of many social platforms is testament that consumers don’t mind sharing their habits, while the backlash against many misguided practices of some social endeavors (“Beacon” anyone?) demonstrates user commitment to managing their transparency, and not having it co-opted or monetized by third parties, without their consent. It’s not even about consent, in fact. It’s about collaboration. The consumer has begun to see that their life has value – monetary value – and they are willing to share that value, so long as the returns are worth the exposure. For some, it’s as simple as badges and upvotes, for others it’s perks and awards. If Nielsen gets smart, it will recognize this trend, and add a seat at the partnership table for the end-user, and audience tracking in the 21st century could become a much more accurate, rewarding, and dare I say enjoyable exercise for all involved.