Nielsen finds two million new online audience members amid major changes to its measurement systems

Audience measurement company Nielsen has announced major changes to its methodology and systems that will see the size of the Australian online audience grow by around two million users when the numbers are announced tomorrow, Mumbrella can reveal.

The major overhaul sees Australia become the first market in the world to implement Nielsen’s new data processing platform and also make significant revisions to the rules on its 7,000 panelists, who under the IAB approved hybrid model are used together with tags on websites to measure online audience.

Under the changes the number of Australians now online will hit a record 17.5m, a change which is expected to significantly increase the online audience of major publishers when the Nielsen Online Ratings are announced tomorrow.

Nielsen’s head of media industry group Monique Perry told Mumbrella these changes, which come ahead of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) tender for the online audience measurement provider, which Nielsen currently holds, are about demonstrating the company’s “commitment to the industry and our desire to continue to work with the industry in the future”.

“These are significant changes,” she said. “There are two big elements to this change. One is a massive investment from Nielsen on a new back end that enables us to process data daily and curate data daily. It’s a hundreds of millions of dollar investment (globally) and it is about future proofing our business and moving to daily data which is where we need to go.”

Perry also said that Nielsen had been working with key industry bodies the IAB and Media Federation of Australia (MFA) on its data and online measurement to ensure the panels were accurate and better represented the growing audiences in the mobile and tablet space.

To do this Nielsen is changing the rules that apply to the 7,000 members of the consumer panel, ensuring it does not over-represent desktop and laptop users and also rigorously monitoring the activity levels and compliance of panelists.

“What we have been doing over the last couple of years is working with the industry, in particular the IAB, the IAB’s publishers and the MFA. Those two organisations has been working with us on some of the things we felt we needed to address in terms of panel purity,” she said.

“We have changed the rules for panellists to be eligible and we’ve changed rules around removing panellists when they are inactive. These changes have come about because of changes in consumer behaviour. As people move away from using desktops and laptops to using mobile and tablets the way we count these panelists has to evolve too.”

“There have been five months of parallel testing with the IAB and MFA to have a look at these changes and what we have seen is on average an increase of 1.3m users. In fact every month that we iterated, refined and improved it, this process led us to make a statement to the IAB that the process had led to an (Australian) active online universe of 17.5m, which is actually 2m up and where we have ended up.”

Nielsen has drawn some criticism from certain publishers, such as The Guardian’s Australian operation, over its measurement of mobile users. Perry said the changes were an important first step and that there would be further steps in 2015 to ensure mobile users were fully and accurately counted.

“What we have done is to do a much better job of accounting for people who are not using desktops and laptops anymore. They are on other devices and we are picking those people up through the hybrid process and we have a sense of tag data so we know what the census number is, we have the home and work panel, and essentially this (number) is the result of climatising that data.

“This is just one step. The next step will be adding in the mobile and tablet panel, which is in a 2014 pilot with the IAB, and we will be looking to incorporate that into our currency measurement next year.”

Perry also said that these changes will have a significant impact on the fiercely fought over top 10 Nielsen Online Ratings for news websites which are announced tomorrow. “What we will see for these sites is that the reach percentage doesn’t change, but when you change the universe by 2 million and you are calculating reach on a much bigger number, then all the unique audiences increase,” she added.

“Yes, the challenge we have this month is we will have a big trend break and it was also a big news month with lots of news, so it will be hard for us to differentiate what is organic increases in audience and what is a trend break.”

The changes come as the IAB prepares to retender the lucrative contract to be its preferred supplier, which ensures whichever audience measurement company wins the tender becomes the currency on which all online advertising is bought.

Nielsen has held the contract since 2011 and had the contract extended last year without a tender. 

Speaking to Mumbrella last week, GroupM’s chief investment and intelligency officer Danny Bass, who is also head of IAB’s Agency Advisory Board, said the decision on the contract would be one of the most important decisions the industry would make in the next decade.

“Four years ago it was a big thing but this time around it could be the most important decision that we as an industry take over the next ten years,” said Bass.

“We need to make sure the agencies have a strong voice in that tender because a lot of us are already working with Nielsen or Comscore.”

Nic Christensen 


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