The number of viewers streaming content on TVs and mobile devices will be factored into TV ratings data for the first time, after viewership tracking agency OzTam debuted a new service that publishes daily viewership figures to give advertisers a “total TV currency”.

Called Virtual Australia (VOZ), the new service – launched from 1 May by long-term TV ratings agency OzTam – compiles and publishes overnight viewing data that will be published online every morning.

Built by software firm TPSS, the service leverages OzTam’s network of more than 20,000 ‘panel homes’ that have agreed to share viewership data using dedicated devices installed in their homes.

Its launch marks the culmination of a three-year collaboration between free-to-air (FTA) and pay TV broadcasters and the Media Federation of Australia, Independent Media Agencies of Australia, Regional TAM, and Nielsen – all of whom have an interest in tracking the relative viewership of publicly available content.

VOZ also marks the first time that advertisers will be able to see what Australians are watching across FTA networks – including the size of what OzTam calls the “incremental audience” streaming the content to an estimated 16 million Australian mobile devices accessing it through the networks’ various streaming services.

“We believe that seeing the true picture of television performance requires a total television view,” noted OzTam CEO Doug Pfeiffer as the service was announced to “reveal the total TV picture, powering TV planning, buying and post analysis in our rapidly changing viewing landscape.”

OzTam intends for VOZ to become a transactional platform and trading currency by 2024, helping advertisers better understand their audience’s demographics and target their advertising.

FTA networks are on board with the change, with Seven West Media managing director and CEO James Warburton noting that “for too long, the TV industry has focused on its smallest audience – overnight linear broadcast viewers – and failed to clearly highlight the fact that total TV is much more than overnight ratings… VOZ accurately reflects how many people are engaging with our industry.”

Streams of Network 10 programs through the 10 Play app regularly increase viewership numbers by more than 20 per cent, with Rod Prosser, chief sales officer of Network 10 parent company Paramount ANZ noting that “our audiences are digital natives who consume content across multiple screens, devices and times that suit their lifestyle.”

Bringing clarity to FTA – but streaming remains opaque

The new measurement scheme is designed to help FTA networks fight back after years of changing viewership habits as viewers flocked to Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and myriad other streaming services that don’t tend to report specific programs’ viewership numbers.

Netflix, for example, offers Top 10 lists showing how many million hours its customers spent watching its most popular content, while networks like Apple TV+ only tend to crow about viewership figures when awards or ‘buzz’ send viewership soaring.

Advertising-based networks, however, live and die based on their viewership – and VOZ is expected to help them provide advertisers with a much fuller picture of what their viewers are actually doing.

Early figures show hundreds of thousands of streaming viewers are logging on to watch shows like Farmer Wants a Wife – which attracted 71,000 streams on top of its top-ranked non-news viewership – as well as I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! (88,000 streams of two episodes), Lego Masters: Grand Masters (49,000), and the ABC’s Insiders (43,000).

That suggests that BVOD streams are increasing viewership by around 3 to 5 per cent overall – although the figures surge among the 16 to 39 demographic, where streams accounted for around 11 per cent of viewership.

“The measurement of live, live streaming and on demand television is the most significant development we have ever seen in TV,” Nine chief sales officer Michael Stephenson said, calling the platform a “world class, future facing, cross-platform measurement system that measures the reach that BVOD adds to terrestrial TV.”

“Australia is leading the world,” he said, “and our entire industry should be very proud.”