While the collective television industry still hasn’t exactly worked out how to successfully move its business online—Hulu? Netflix? Live broadcasts? Some mix of those?—they can rest assured that when they do finally make it happen, someone will be there to tell them how many people are tuning in.
Nielsen has started what it’s calling “an R&D stage” of measuring live TV viewing through iPad applications, with testing taking place on Time Warner Cable’s controversial app, as well as ones belonging to Cablevision and two other unnamed services.
Until now, all broadcasters—many of whom are unhappy with their channels being streamed online without extra payment from the providers—have had to estimate the size of their online audiences by basically just estimating how many times their apps have been downloaded.
But Nielsen plans to change that. “Right now, iPad streaming is not having an impact on ratings,” admits Nielsen EVP Matt O’Grady, “but we’re taking [the project] dead seriously because our clients need to know what the viewing is on tablet and smartphone platforms.”
Viewing will be measured initially using new code in the app, but Nielsen hopes to roll out additional measurements in the future, including a way to track “friends and family” viewing habits.
Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.