Alec Baldwin appears in an ad for the online TV service Hulu, whose viewers… (Hulu )
Nielsen is rethinking how it measures television viewing.
Responding to pressure from the television industry, the ratings company is making a bigger push to measure viewing in a way that reflects the different means by which television content is distributed and consumed in the digital age.
The first step for Nielsen is to redefine what it considers a "television home." Starting this fall, homes that receive content on their television through video-game consoles or through broadband connections will be included in its sample. In the past, Nielsen only counted viewing that was done either through an over-the-air antenna or via a pay-TV provider such as a satellite broadcaster or cable company.
"The definition of television viewing is blurring a little bit," said Pat McDonough, a Nielsen senior vice president.
PHOTOS: Hollywood Backlot moments
For networks and advertisers, Nielsen's move is long overdue.
"It is imperative for us that Nielsen as soon as possible incorporate these new forms of distribution into the overall measurement system," said CBS Chief Research Officer David Poltrack.
Nielsen's decision to change its definition of a television home came as it noticed an increase in the number of homes not using a traditional distribution system to consume television over the last few years. Besides people cutting the cord to their pay-TV provider, many younger consumers simply never sign up in the first place, choosing instead to get content through newer platforms such as Hulu or Netflix.
The traditional networks are putting more of their content online as well. If that material has advertisements in it, having a proper measurement becomes crucial.
PHOTOS: Celebrity portraits by The Times
Nielsen is also under pressure to start measuring viewing done from tablets such as Apple's iPad. Currently, iPads and other tablets are not measured even though the device has become in effect another television screen for many families. CBS' Poltrack said getting a read on media consumption through tablets is "critical."
Testing on measuring tablet viewing is already underway at Nielsen. McDonough is hopeful that in 2014 the ratings company will be able to include that data in its overall numbers.
Nielsen already measures viewing done online through computers, but some think the sample it uses to track that consumption is too small to provide real insight into how people are watching television.
News of the Nielsen ratings change strategy first appeared in the Hollywood Reporter.
Warner Bros. TV Group chief wants better ratings data
Nielsen talks with media bosses about updating TV measurement
CBS research chief touts golden age of broadcast TV
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.
PHOTOS: Behind the scenes of 'Downton Abbey'
VIDEO: Winter TV preview
PHOTOS: Violence in TV shows