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Why Digital Video Players Should Stop Comparing Their Viewership
January 30, 2016 – 10:10 am
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Fullscreen compared its male viewership to AMC's highly-rated The Walking Dead. Fullscreen/AMC

Numbers never lie. But they can surely be manipulated.

And during the past two weeks of NewFronts presentations, digital video players took that to heart.

During YouTube's Brandcast, CEO Susan Wojcicki made the bold claim that "on mobile alone, YouTube now reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds than any network." And she didn't stop there, adding that the online video hub reaches more young adults during prime time than the top 10 TV shows combined.

Wojcicki wasn't the only one launching verbal missiles at traditional television. Just a few days later, as multichannel network Fullscreen was touting its evolution into a full-fledged media company, its head of sales Kevin McGurn added even more fuel to the fire.

Fullscreen is rolling up its top 25 male- and female-skewing channels and selling it as one package to advertisers, dubbed HisScreen and HerScreen, allowing brands to make a single buy across popular creators' channels like Grace Helbig and the Fine Brothers.

Instead of letting that do the talking, McGurn decided to compare the combined reach of those packages to single television programs, which is becoming a popular way for digital players to compare themselves to television. For example, McGurn said the combined reach of the HisScreen channels was comparable to college football's Sugar Bowl and AMC's The Walking Dead.

"I think they're [making these comparisons] because they need a big number, " Charlie Fiordalis, Chief Digital Officer at Media Storm, told Adweek. "But I don't see it necessarily as a meaningful number."

Fullscreen shared with Adweek how McGurn was able to make that comparison, and while it's all factually correct, it's not exactly a 1-to-1 ratio.

Because Nielsen doesn't measure how linear TV shows perform on mobile and other non-TV platforms, Fullscreen is only able to compare itself against the viewers that are watching TV on TV.

Also, a video only has to start and run a few seconds to register a view, while what they're comparing against TV is the average audience: the amount of viewers tuned in at any given time.

So how does Fullscreen get to the point where it can claim its top male-skewing channels outpace AMC's The Walking Dead, one of the most-watched scripted shows on TV among young adults? First, it adds up the number of video views (the amount of times that a video is started) to get a gross estimate. Then it applies average frequency estimates to determin the unduplicated audience. For this specific comparison, Fullscreen estimated users watch 10 videos per week on average.

For HisScreen, Fullscreen estimates a total of 100 million views per week, but since it estimated the average user is watching 10 videos per week, it compared itself against TV shows that averaged 10 million male viewers on a live + 7 basis.

Fullscreen found that Walking Dead telecasts during the first quarter of 2016 averaged 4.5 million male viewers, enabling it to make this claim. But it averaged all 18 airings, which include encore airings along with the first-run broadcasts, artificially lowering the numbers. And that 100 million views encompasses all demos not just male—it skews about 90 percent male—but it's only comparing HisScreen solely against male viewership for The Walking Dead.

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