Nielsen Holdings N.V.—the company that allows people whom you’d slowly back away from at a party to decide which of your favorite TV shows aren’t worth keeping—has finally found a way to get ratings numbers for TV shows watched via streaming. Netflix and Amazon have always been reticent about sharing specific viewing numbers for both their original programming and licensed content, but Nielsen has figured out a way to get the data without requiring the services’ permission. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Nielsen will begin using devices already attached to their reporters’ televisions to analyze and identify which programs are streamed on their TVs.
In recent years, Nielsen has moved away from its self-reporting diary system in favor of automatic digital reporting devices. At present, most Nielsen family televisions are equipped with a “home set,” which records and reports data on programs being watched by detecting inaudible frequencies encoded into the shows—encoding that neither Netflix nor Amazon Prime provide. To circumvent that obstacle, the survey and marketing company will begin using the home sets to listen in on audio from connected devices to identify programs being streamed through the TVs. (Presumably the company has a massive database of every heavily bleeped Gordon Ramsay tirade from Kitchen Nightmares to help it with the identification process.) While the method still leaves out data from mobile devices or computers, it will at least give Nielsen some idea of what its hordes of blank-faced, mass-produced Nielsen drones watch when they’re in the mood for a Netflix binge.
According to the WSJ report, Nielsen intends to use the data to analyze how streaming numbers relate to drops in a show’s first-viewing ratings, to see if networks are cannibalizing themselves by making their content available to stream. The data will also be fed to the company’s patron god, NYELL-SONG THE ALL-SEEING, the better to allow It to double-cancel Firefly from beyond the grave.