Streaming Measurement: Why and How to Improve Streaming Media Metrics

Why are OTT providers struggling with data, and how might they up their metrics game?

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June 15, 2022

Box office numbers and Nielsen ratings are more than just water-cooler talk for cinephiles and TV junkies. On the small screen, media metrics can help determine everything from ad rates to scheduling strategy and in theaters, they can influence distributor rental agreements, release sizes and more. The content information collected within the entertainment industry is nothing short of serious business.

In that case, why does the data landscape in the streaming space resemble the Wild West? 

The streaming industry as we know it has existed for only a few years. Previously, Netflix had held its numbers close to the vest, while YouTube took a fairly progressive data approach. The recent groundswell of new platforms has created more competition in the space – and with it the incentive to prove the value of content offerings. We could see more platforms attempt to emulate YouTube’s model (and transparency), but streamers are still sorting out exactly how to quantify and report their successes. Why are OTT providers struggling with data, and how might they up their metrics game?

Subpar Streaming Media Metrics

The data available to programmers in the streaming space is fairly robust and descriptive, but there’s an overriding problem that continues to prevent the industry from making full use of those numbers: agreement. Too many streamers cherry-pick the figures that cast their own platform in the best light, leaving the OTT space with few accepted standards for measurement.

Some streamers have taken baby steps to help make sense of the data and provide more statistical transparency. A few years ago, Netflix created categories for view types: “starters,” “watchers” and “completers.” But these are proprietary metrics that have little use for comparing performance across platforms. And although the company made moves last October to better align its reporting with “how outside services measure TV viewing,” Netflix was recently at odds with Nielsen over its performance metrics for at least one series – a disagreement that neither side rushed to clear up.

As more subscription-based platforms turn to ad-supported revenue streams to supplement or replace their current models, codifying streaming performance metrics will become important for attracting advertisers and maximizing those ad sales opportunities. So, how should streamers fix the problem?

Improving the OTT Metrics System

A handful of existing metrics analyzed by OTT providers are designed to measure the quality of the stream or user experience – things like bit rate, buffer fill and lag ratio. These numbers have their practical uses for streamers, but not as it pertains to this topic. Instead, we’re talking about content performance – metrics that essentially measure interest level in a show or film.

For that task, metrics like streaming plays, total minutes streamed and average percent completion are widely tracked measurements that can reflect content popularity and viewer retention – the qualities that matter most to advertisers. They are also easy for both OTT insiders and the public to understand, which would help deliver a level of transparency that can be the tide that lifts all boats in the streaming space.

Although no single streaming metric can tell the full performance story for any piece of content, an aggregate that gives equal weight to total plays and completion percentage may ultimately be the number that is simplest to understand while offering the most value to advertisers. In any case, whether it’s a series of analytics or a magic formula, OTT providers must first align to decide exactly what the future of streaming media metrics will be.

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