Your online TV watching is now being tracked across devices

A partnership between Adobe and Nielsen gives broadcasters detailed viewing data

Showing all viewers the same commercial six minutes into, say, an episode of "Modern Family" might soon be over. If you're watching it online.

A new partnership between TV measurement company Nielsen and analytics provider Adobe was announced early Tuesday, presenting detailed data about how people watch TV and other media on the Internet. The team-up adds smarts to existing forms of tracking, by letting broadcasters get a better picture of how Internet users consume media across devices and platforms.

With the service, partnered broadcasters could see, for instance, if viewers began watching a show on Netflix on their laptop, then switched to a Roku set-top box to finish it. And then read an article on ESPN.com.

It's a big expansion of the usual demographic data and video viewing rates gained through existing Web tracking and online measurement tools. But the Adobe-Nielsen partnership will let broadcasters connect the dots. They'll see how people interact with digital video between devices, particularly on new platforms like Internet-connected set-top boxes. The information learned will help broadcasters decide what to charge advertisers, and deliver better targeted ads for viewers.

"This is hugely valuable, new, rich data factoring in broader user behavior," said Melissa Webster, an industry analyst at IDC who studies digital advertising. The partnership allows for a "tremendous data repository" for businesses seeking new customer insights, she said.

Broadcasters today are hard-pressed to make sense of how people consume digital content, a task made more difficult as viewers shift between streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and devices like smartphones and Internet-connected set-top boxes. The technology for gathering data within a particular service's walls is established, but digital sleuthing between devices and sites is harder.

The Nielsen-Adobe partnership is designed to fill the gap, by marrying Adobe's video analytics and advertising platform with Nielsen's TV ratings.

Adobe's Analytics service, gained through its acquisition of Omniture, let it track how consumers view digital media across devices through digital cookies and mobile advertising IDs. Nielsen's online tools measure demographic data, social chatter on Twitter and how people interact with content online. The alliance lets participating businesses tap into aggregated and anonymous data measuring how consumers interact with digital content including TV, videos, games, audio and text, the companies say.

Broadcasters can use the new Nielsen Digital Content Ratings, as they're called, beginning early next year. Early users include ESPN, Sony Pictures Television, Turner Broadcasting and Viacom.

The Internet is still a new frontier for TV, but broadcasters are increasingly looking to attract viewers there. Both HBO and CBS have recently announced standalone streaming services competing with catch-alls like Netflix or Hulu. You could bet they'll want as much information about customers' viewing habits as they can get.

Traditional TV advertising is still vastly more lucrative than digital video ads, according to eMarketer. But analytic services like those provided by Nielsen and Adobe could eventually reverse the trend, as more consumers transition online.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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