Content is not the only king, but it's pretty pervasive in today's society. You can watch programming on new platforms like the Web, portable DVD players, video iPods, Sony's PSP handheld, and cellphones. And let's not forget that at many social spots, there's usually a television monitor (or several) available to view a multitude of entertainment offerings.

That's why the Nielsen Company is putting together a ratings service to capture data on viewer levels at places such as bars, lobbies, gyms, restaurants, and more. Wherever there's a television outside the home, Nielsen wants to know how many people are watching it, and what they are watching. The New York Timesreported that Nielsen has hooked up with Integrated Media Measurement to accomplish the data collection. Integrated Media Measurement is supplying special cell phones that can use sound waves to figure out what's on a television. The cellphones will be distributed to 4,700 people who will be compensated via a small stipend for their willingness to carry them through their day.

If Nielsen's media clients love one thing, it's eyeballs. The more that can be found, the better. Networks like Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC, General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC, CBS (NYSE:CBS), and News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) Fox need the ability to draw a 360-degree picture of the collective reach of their broadcast portfolios to fully monetize their collective value.

Considering that iPods and other devices are luring people away from the traditional networks, this Nielsen service will be crucial in helping media companies understand their viewers' behavior, and how they are affected by content viewed outside the living room. If programmers see a link between shows that score high ratings for both home and social-spot viewing, they might try to tailor shows that will work in both landscapes.

Nielsen is taking full advantage of the shift in content distribution to develop new products. Because advertising seems to be getting lost in the shuffle these days due to technologies like TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) which allow timeshifting, the industry's begun producing ratings data for commercials as well. Nielsen also wants to help the video game industry sell advertising more effectively, by giving publishers such as Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) an idea of how many consumers actually play their games, as opposed to simply knowing how many copies of a title were sold.

As these various ratings services become optimized, content distributors will be in a better position to prove the true value of their libraries to advertisers. They'll also be able to help those ad buyers figure out the best way for commercial messages to reach the public. In a society busy with entertainment, quality ratings data will turn out to be crucial. Nielsen's gauge of social-spot viewing habits, slated to begin in September, should deliver some interesting insight into what all those eyeballs want to see.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns shares of Disney and General Electric. As of this writing, he was ranked 12,181 out of 26,694 investors in the CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.