Pandemic Viewership is Pushing TV Faster into the ACR Era


Aden Zaman
SVP of Strategy and Business Development
May 26, 2020

As Americans continue living under stay-at-home orders, TV viewership is booming. While viewership has spiked at important historical moments in the past, the rapid and sustained gains in eyeballs we’re experiencing now are unprecedented. It’s imperative that everyone involved in TV – the networks, advertisers, agencies, and technology platforms – understand what kinds of programming are winning and losing eyeballs in this new era, as well as when and how viewers are tuning in. This need for understanding, as well as the dramatic increase in viewership and further bifurcation of audiences across delivery formats, has made Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) data a must-have.

Built directly into the chipsets of Smart TVs, ACR technology captures a few pixels of what appears on the screen and matches it to a database of programming and ad air times, to provide a picture of accurate, real-time viewership data. This data powers timely recommendations that are trending across similar viewer profiles to help consumers discover new programming as they binge watch entire catalogs of content. Advertisers can use the insights to understand exactly how many people watched their ads, and when combined with additional data, to determine how well their ad performed. ACR’s ability to identify everything that hits the glass on a TV set is also incredibly valuable in a time of unlimited viewing options. It can capture an accurate picture of viewership across broadcast, cable, and the growing number of streaming platforms, many of which are defining viewership on their own proprietary terms.

This is important because viewers who are social distancing are latching on to new platforms in ways that legacy models simply couldn’t prepare for. Disney+ hit 50 million subscribers three years faster than it expected to, largely due to pandemic viewing habits. NBC is looking at this runaway success and evaluating if it should  move up the national launch date for its Peacock streaming service. 

Meanwhile, events like live sports and the Olympics have fallen off the TV calendar, and advertisers need to know where and how to reach these viewers in other programming. Historically, broadcasters have sold over 75% of their annual advertising inventory during the upfronts, and cable programmers sold over 50%. However, in 2020 those commitments are expected to drop by 30% or more, creating opportunity for more addressable scatter and OTT advertising. Legacy models aren’t built for these rapid developments, forcing networks and advertisers to quickly evolve how they plan, buy, and measure television.

The more viewers watch, the more there is to measure, and the TV industry is eager to have these insights as quickly as possible. ACR data is collected automatically in real time, directly from Smart TVs once viewers opt-in, enabling advertisers to make faster decisions based on these new insights. TV insiders have talked about ACR as the future of TV measurement for years, and it has now become that viable, scaled source of truth. Brands, agencies, TV networks and platforms are all eager to understand what’s happening, and ACR has emerged as the best option.

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