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Nielsen’s New Tool Puts the Streaming Wars in Perspective, Or Does It?

Alright, so Nielsen decided to jazz things up with a shiny new toy to monitor the streaming wars. Introducing the Media Distributor Gauge, the latest contraption to dissect our media consumption habits. This gizmo will break down total cross-platform viewership across media companies, and honestly, it feels like the data version of a reality show reunion special—complete with all the drama but none of the cheap champagne.

Think of this new gadget as a spin-off of Nielsen’s monthly The Gauge report. But instead of just telling us which platform is winning, it’s breaking it down by media company. It’s like Nielsen’s way of saying, “Yeah, we see you, but let’s get real granular.”

For instance, in April, The Walt Disney Company was the belle of the ball, claiming 11.5% of total TV viewing time across Disney+, Hulu, and ABC. But don’t start rolling out the red carpet just yet—YouTube still took the crown as the most-watched individual platform with 9.6% of total viewing. Sure, YouTube’s numbers dipped 3% from March, but it’s still the reigning champ for 15 months straight. That’s more staying power than most reality TV show stars. Seriously, someone give YouTube a trophy already.

Brian Fuhrer, Nielsen’s SVP of product strategy and thought leadership, broke down the rationale in a video that probably felt like a TED Talk on steroids. “The original objective was to show how viewing trended across broadcast, cable, and streaming,” Fuhrer explained. “But now, The Gauge will add data on audience engagement by media distributor.” Translation: we’re slicing this pie thinner than ever, and hoping you don’t notice the calories.

Karthik Rao, CEO of Nielsen, added his two cents, calling the Media Distributor Gauge a “perfect complement” to the original Gauge. According to him, it’s the first convergent TV comparison of its kind, giving us the most complete picture of TV viewing today. Cue the applause from advertisers and media planners. Somewhere in an office, a marketing exec is popping a bottle of Dom Pérignon.

Time out. Who else thinks this Media Distributor Gauge is Nielsen’s clever trick to frame the data in a way that suits them?

Let me break it down for you.

The original Gauge was all about how viewers were accessing content on the same device type. It was a critical tool for brands to understand the shift from linear to streaming. It was like Nielsen was handing us a clear map to navigate the treacherous seas of modern media consumption.

This new report, however, shifts the focus to who’s winning the attention game on TV. And while that sounds great on paper, it’s missing a massive chunk of the picture. It’s like judging a cooking contest but only tasting the appetizers.

We can’t ignore the fact that the living room big screen isn’t the only—or even the primary—device for video engagement anymore. Sure, it’s still got its place, but it’s not the sole ruler of our attention spans. If we’re going to talk about who captures the most eyeballs, let’s include all the scroll-happy platforms on mobile. TikTok, the rest of YouTube, Meta, Snap—these are the real gladiators in the arena, not just the guys hogging the big screen.

According to Nielsen, the average US adult spends 32 hours a week with TV (both streaming and linear), which shakes out to about 4.5 hours a day. Disney’s 11.5% share translates to just over 30 minutes a day. Now, compare that to the 150 million US users on TikTok who average 90 minutes a day consuming content. Ninety minutes! That’s like watching The Godfather every single day, but instead, it’s cat videos and dance challenges.

If we included mobile viewing in Nielsen’s calculations, YouTube would essentially double its share. Double. It’s like Nielsen’s playing with one hand tied behind its back and still expecting to win the game. The big screen is just one piece of the puzzle, and without considering mobile, we’re missing the forest for the trees.

So, while Disney might be popping champagne, it’s important to remember there’s a whole other battlefield out there. The Media Distributor Gauge is a step in the right direction, sure, but if we really want to understand who’s winning the attention war, we need to broaden our scope beyond the TV screen.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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