How many watch Hulu?

Does Hulu, the Web's most popular place for TV viewing, reach nine million people a month or 42 million? Hulu's growth has been explosive, up 490 percent year over year, according to Nielsen Online. Hulu executives, however, say the company is undercounting the site's visitors. They say Nielsen's numbers hurt Hulu's perception among advertisers and the press.

While Nielsen reported 8.9 million visitors to Hulu in March, another measurement firm, comScore, counted 42 million. Exacerbating the confusion, Nielsen's numbers for April show Hulu losing audience while still managing to add video views, also known as streams.

Web publishers are never entirely happy with the online ratings they receive from measurement companies. Their internal numbers, collected via clicks to their servers, are almost always higher than the third-party estimates.

Nielsen Online said Hulu served up 373 million video streams in April, up from 348 million in March and 309 million in February. But Nielsen also said Hulu's unique visitors had declined, from 9.5 million in February to 8.9 million in March to 7.4 million in April.

While Hulu did experience an immense spike in streams after it advertised during the Super Bowl in February, other measurement firms, like Quantcast, have not detected an equivalent drop in visitors.

Nielsen counts video streams by using "beacons," which inform the company whenever a video starts playing. But it counts visitors and provides demographic data by monitoring the Web use of about 200,000 panel members, whose online behaviour and demographics are weighted. Dave Osborn, a senior vice president for Nielsen Online, told the NY Times the company blended two separate panels: a large one that is recruited online and a smaller, more scientific panel of 20,000 that is recruited randomly and "which we believe better reflects the overall universe."

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