Nielsen Unveils Online Video Tracking Service

It may have been a fun ride while it lasted, but sooner or later, everything gets monetized — including shared online video.

That’s the hope of the Nielsen Company, which today announced a new service enabling content producers to track, manage and, yes, monetize the distribution of their videos over the Internet.

Nielsen joined up with Digimarc, a technology provider that specializes in identification security, to develop the new Nielsen Digital Media Manager service. When it goes live in mid-2008, the service’s focus will be to help TV networks rein in digital distribution of their programming and create a working business model for online video.

The system will employ digital watermarking and fingerprinting technologies to help content owners regain control over copyrighted videos that at present are ricocheting around the Internet on social networking sites, peer-to-peer services and, especially, user-generated content (UGC) sites like YouTube.

The system will allow media companies to track how many people are viewing their video content and on which sites those videos appear.

“The purpose of this service is to give the industry confidence that a secure system exists so that [television companies] feel comfortable distributing their content on the Internet,” Dave Harkness, Nielsen’s senior vice president of strategy and business development, told

Ultimately, Nielsen expects the service to create an industry-wide standard for copyright compliance. At the same time, it could provide content owners with a more accessible path to making money from their videos through sales, ad-pairing and royalties.

“Until now, the lack of an independent, industry-accepted identification tracking service has limited the transactions that allow the delivery of media content over the Internet,” Nielsen Chairman and CEO David Calhoun said in a statement.

The service could become the technological solution to a problem that Viacom has been unable to resolve in court. In March, Viacom filed a suit against Google, claiming that the company’s video-sharing site YouTube had engaged in “massive intentional copyright infringement.”

The suit came after YouTube failed to respond to Viacom’s demand that it take down 100,000 video clips from shows that had aired on MTV, Comedy Central and other networks.

In such instances, Nielsen’s Digital Media Manager could provide content companies like Viacom with an automated instrument for enforcing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The service would notify media owners of where and how people are accessing, sharing and editing their videos, enabling them to block usage on specific sites if they detect copyright violation.

The company said that under that scenario, usage permissions would be governed by pre-existing rules, so that when a user attempts to upload a clip from a TV show to a site, the action would be automatically blocked if the site did not have a business relationship with the content owner.

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Nielsen’s Digital Media Manager also will be able to accommodate granular rules set up by content owners, identifying and enforcing different usage for different versions of the same content, according to Reed Stager, executive vice president of Digimarc.

Hypothetically, if a movie studio wanted to virally promote a film, it could release a short trailer with very liberal distribution settings, Stager said. At the same time, the studio ensure another, longer trailer for the same movie remains more tightly restricted.

Of course, to a large degree, implementation of those rules depends on the cooperation of UGC sites.

Content owners will also be able to use those rules to pair ads with their videos. But Harkness said Nielsen isn’t looking to become an ad-placement platform; instead, it’s hoping its technology could allow businesses to create rules that automate the ad-pairing process, according to the terms of their agreements with advertisers.

Nielsen already encodes 95 percent of national television programming with digital watermarks for its TV ratings, so the first phase of the program is already complete, Stager points out.

What comes next is the thornier matter of bringing all related parties to the table to hammer out an implementation strategy.

Using the service, content owners could locate and remove their videos without cooperation from the offending sites. But in order for real-time, automated monitoring to work, UGC operators like YouTube would have to agree to integrate the system into their sites. That is why the system isn’t slated to go live until the middle of next year.

Nielsen sees its service as becoming something of a peacemaker, helping to confer a new legitimacy on social networking and user-generated content sites that will encourage business partnerships with traditional media companies.

“We’re not trying to create so much a service to police distribution, though that becomes a byproduct, but trying to create a [workable] business model,” Harkness said. “This is our attempt to get the UGC sites to buy into that business model.”

He added that Nielsen has already entered into preliminary talks with the operators of many of those sites.

“We have spoken at high levels with many of the very large companies that own UGC sites,” he said. He did not elaborate.

Though initially deployed as a solution to the very immediate problems facing television distributors, the service could also be a boon for independent producers. For them, the service could represent a big step in monetizing the social media phenomenon, ensuring that videos that gain enormous viral popularity on YouTube or MySpace deliver an actual payday as well.

For one thing, the Digital Media Manager service will give producers and distributors hard numbers on the viewership of their content, which they will then be able to present to advertisers to create a television-like revenue model.

Nielsen plans to eventually expand its media partnerships to place digital watermarks on DVDs, music and video games.

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