Nielsen, Amazon Prime spar over NFL football audience

By the Nielsen company’s count, 7.8 million people watched Amazon Prime’s coverage of last Thursday’s NFL game between New Orleans and Arizona. But Amazon says no, there were actually 8.9 million people watching.

So which is it?

You’ll have to judge for yourself. After each of its Thursday night games this season, Amazon has publicly contradicted Nielsen in this manner, one of the boldest challenges ever to a company that for generations has monopolized the count of people watching programs on television.

Neither company is saying the other is wrong, but neither is backing down, either. The result is confusion, most notably for advertisers.

Nielsen, as it has for years, follows the viewing habits in a panel of homes across the country and, from that limited sample, derives an estimate of how many people watch a particular program. That number is currency in the media industry, meaning it is used to determine advertising rates.

Amazon, in the first year of an 11-year contract to stream Thursday night games, says it has an actual count of every one of its subscribers who streams it—not an estimate. The games are also televised in the local markets of the participating teams, about 9% of its total viewership each week, and Amazon uses Nielsen’s estimate for that portion of the total.

“We wouldn’t put out our number if we weren’t comfortable that it was accurate,” said Jay Marine, vice president of Amazon Prime Video and head of its sports department.

Through six weeks, Nielsen says the Thursday night games have averaged 10.3 million viewers. Amazon says the average is 12.1 million. Amazon’s estimate has been bigger than Nielsen’s each week.

“I don’t at all believe that Amazon’s numbers are not right,” said Connie Kim, Nielsen spokeswoman. “And I don’t believe that our numbers are not right.”

Since different methodologies are being used, it’s no surprise that there are differences in the estimate, she said.

“It’s going to take a little time,” Kim said. “As it evolves it should be one number. But we’re not quite there yet.”

For now, ad prices for the Thursday games are set using Nielsen’s numbers. But Amazon clearly has an incentive to let clients know that it believes more people are actually watching.

“You have to remember that this is new—new for Nielsen and it’s the first time there’s been actual data for an event like this,” Marine said.

The dispute has clear implications for the future. Streamers haven’t had much incentive for measurements of daily viewing to be publicized, in part because people don’t watch their shows the same way as broadcast television, and they haven’t needed numbers verified from a third-party source for advertisers.

But with Netflix about to introduce advertising, that can all change very rapidly. And if other companies develop technology that can measure viewing more precisely, the precedent has now been set for publicly disputing Nielsen’s numbers.

In prime time last week, NBC was the top-rated network, averaging 5.1 million viewers. CBS had 4.7 million, Fox had 4 million, ABC had 3 million, Univision had 1.4 million, Ion Television had 950,000 and Telemundo had 880,000.

TBS was the most-watched cable network, averaging 2.85 million viewers in prime time. ESPN had 2.68 million, Fox News Channel had 2.26 million, MSNBC had 1.09 million and TNT had 1.05 million.

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3 thoughts on “Nielsen, Amazon Prime spar over NFL football audience

  1. If the NFL really cared about the players as they say, there would be no TNF, which forces players to put their bodies on their he line a mere four days after taking a beating during the previous Sunday game.

    As for TNF being streamed, I don’t know what the NFL is thinking. Everyone doesn’t have streaming (let alone the internet) and so it cuts a large segment of the fan base (and potential fan base) out of viewership. And for someone like me who does have streaming capability, I am forced to move my firestick around to whichever television in my house that I would like the game to be on and I can’t have it on multiple televisions as I would like so that I can move around the house. The TNF product is so bad that I’ve barely watched this season, and I am an avid NFL fan/watcher.

    1. You are in the minority. If people stream, they have all TVs ready to go. My 97 yr old grandmother is streaming.

  2. I agree with Robert about the unwise of scheduling of the games but it is all about the money. That is obvious. I am a fan and also a former athlete, coach, and referee. So, I love the game as much as anyone and I have two observations: 1) The product may well be overexposed and this might ultimately backfire on the NFL. I had the opportunity to talk with an NFL owner a coupkle of years ago and I shared my opinion that with games on Sun, Mon, Thurs and now being explored for Friday night and playoff games on Saturdays, it has gotten ridiculous. Seems like they want a game each day of the week. I told him they should stick to Sun and Mon night and ditch the rest. Let H.S. games have Friday nights and the colleges alone should have Saturdays – why compete? 2) To the point of wear and tear and the care of the health of the athlete, the NFL philosophy does not take into account the welfare of the players. If they did, they would not have the current schedule and would also reduce pre-season games or eliminate them just as they got rid of the Pro Bowl. More is not always better …

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