NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- For a man who oversees a company best known for children's programming and light-hearted comedy, Viacom ( VIAB) CEO Philippe Dauman might seem ill-suited for the job. In public, at least, he's never been accused of being the patient and jovial type -- especially when it comes to Nielsen.
In an interview held before investors at the UBS Media and Communications Conference in New York on Monday, Dauman was firm and more than a little pointed when the conversation turned to Nielsen, the longtime measurer of television viewing. Nielsen, Dauman said, has made some progress toward calculating video being watched on the full array of modern mobile devices, but it still has a ways to go.
"Today, even in-home streaming of channels viewed on tablets, or gaming devices, or any device other than a television set is not currently captured" by Nielsen's rating system, known in the industry as C3, Dauman said. "That's not widely known."
Viacom and Nielsen, Dauman said, have had numerous conversations about how to better measure video viewing, and progress, say both companies is near. Early next year, Nielsen and its payTV distributor partners are expected to have installed software in the media monitor's in-home systems to better gauge what video is being watched.
"That will be very revelatory," Dauman said. "We want to be there, and we also want our partners to be there too to measure it."
Dauman's misgivings about Nielsen aren't simply sour grapes. In October, the agency acknowledged that it had been reporting inaccurate numbers for broadcast television networks for months. Yet it remained debatable whether the errors, in tenth of a percent, had had a significant effect on U.S. television advertising spending, a $70 billion a year industry.
Nielsen representatives weren't immediately available for comment.
For the moment, television network owners, whether over-the-air broadcasters or niche cable channels, are hounded by headlines reporting declines in television viewing and subsequent decreases in advertising spending. Furthermore, the amount of time the average viewer is spending on watching TV has dropped to 27 hours a week in 2014 -- down from its peak of 32 hours a week in 2009, according to a report by advertising agency Magna Global.
Nielsen counters that the entire industry, content-producers, distributors and measurement agencies are all having to adapt to accelerating popularity of streaming services, over-the-top offerings such as Netflix and Hulu as well as a myriad of time-shifting services.
Rather than blaming Nielsen for lower viewing numbers, Megan Clarken, Nielsen's executive vice president of global product leadership, in a Nov. 14 commentary in MediaDailyNews, called on the entire industry, including advertisers, to go forward on a broad effort to expand its digital measurement tools to encompass total audience regardless of platform for both content and advertising.
"The challenge is to retain and build audiences and to prove their value to advertisers," Clarken wrote. "To do this, Nielsen is prepared to present the total picture of the consumer - one that fully reflects their viewing of all content available and delivers a proven return to our clients on their investments.
The change in viewing habits , especially among younger consumers, isn't limited to the popularity of Netflix (NFLX) , though the world's most popular video streaming service is taking viewers away from so-called linear television watching. It also encompasses user-generated video sites such as YouTube, which is owned by Google (GOOG) , and IAC InterActive's (IACI) Vimeo.
The problem for Dauman is convincing advertisers that viewing of Viacom's content isn't slipping nearly as much as currently presumed, and that high-quality video deserves a premium to user-generated content such as YouTube.
"There are a lot of misnomers being used about ratings and actual consumption of video," he said. "The amount of consumption is increasing, but what needs to happen is to make it easier to use, easier to access, and, of course, for those who provide it, easier to monetize."
When that day comes, Dauman may finally look happy enough to appear on Nickelodeon or, better yet, Comedy Central.
Contact Leon Lazaroff by Email.