Nielsen wants to track everything you watch

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Tom Keating
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Nielsen wants to track everything you watch

Nielsen wants to expand upon their TV tracking into the Web realm and even your iPod to track what video content you watch. According to this MSNBC article, "Nielsen Media Research said Wednesday it plans to integrate TV with Internet ratings and to measure viewership for such portable devices as cell phones and iPods." It states that Nielsen is developing "meters" that track viewing on portable devices, and will by year's end have a 400-member iPod user panel in place.

While I applaud Nielsen for trying to expand their repertoire of user habits & tracking, which aids in reporting for content providers and gives advertisers an audited way of knowing readership, I am a bit skeptical over Nielsen tracking user's Web surfing habits or what videos they watch on their iPods. Isn't this known as "spyware"? As far as I know, Nielsen uses special cable boxes installed in residential homes that "volunteer" to have their TV watching habits tracked. Nielsen's new idea to track what videos you watch on the Web or other device doesn't seem voluntary.

In addition to the "spyware" concerns, wouldn't all the content providers that offer videos online or for download to an iPod have to support Nielsen's software tracking code. My guess is that any time you view a video on a web page (CNN, MSNBC, Apple, etc.), it has to "phone home" to Nielsen's servers and tell Nielsen what video you watched. This would require not only the major content providers to agree to "phone home" to Nielsen's servers, but also any webmaster that provides videos on their websites as well. Most content providers are pretty stingy about sharing that kind of viewing information. For instance, would CNN want it known that more people visit FOX News and download more FOX News content?

I suppose if Nielsen plans to partner with Apple Quicktime, Real Player, and Microsoft Media Player to embed some video tracking code within these popular video players, they can cover 95% of the market. Then they wouldn't need webmasters or the content providers to modify their web pages to "phone home" - the media players would do it automatically. Though I would imagine this would cause cries of spyware and the Internet community most likely wouldn't tolerate it.

Currently, the iPod doesn't have IP connectivity, so I'm not sure how an iPod could transmit what videos you watch. Although, I suppose it could batch what videos you watch and the next time you synch your iPod on it's cradle (Firewire or USB) it can transmit the batch file of all videos you watched. Of course, that isn't very accurate or timely since I sometimes go weeks without connecting my iPod to my PC.

It will be interesting to see how Nielsen will do this and if users will agree to have their video watching habits tracked, especially if you download pirated movies to your iPod.

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