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Upping the ante for Nielsen homes

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Nielsen Media Research has recently spent more than $9 million and implemented more than 40 initiatives to improve its diary service and response rate from U.S. television homes.
Last year, Nielsen found out you get what you pay for when it sent $5 along with a diary to homes that did not respond to or refused a Nielsen representative’s invitation by telephone to be a diary home for a week. The company got a 60 percent increase in responses from homes that agreed to the invite.
As a result, Nielsen-which used to send $1-is now shelling out $5 along with diaries for the May book to homes with family members under age 50, since younger demos have a lower participation rate.
In another major change, Nielsen spent about $1.3 million installing equipment that will package the diaries in new envelopes. Beginning in July the ratings research company will use customized U.S. Postal Service overnight priority mail to send diaries to these younger homes in an effort to encourage them to participate. It will cost Nielsen-which typically sends diaries to about 2.3 million homes a year-about $2 million in postage for the overnight service.
Nielsen also spent $3 million to upgrade its two call centers-one in Florida and one in Kentucky-whose function is to recruit homes to fill out diaries for one week as well as recruit metered homes. The telephone software has been updated, and the number of full-time workers to staff the phones has been increased from 75 to 300. In addition, Nielsen has increased hourly pay and also hired an additional 61 field employees to install meters in homes.
A year ago, the company redoubled its efforts to ensure that Nielsen homes accurately reflected the demographics of each metered market. There is now better representation of Hispanic and African American homes, partly due to the $5 incentive last year. Nielsen plans to send $10 to these homes either this year or next.
Since April 2000, in every new metered market Nielsen has launched it has abandoned phone recruitment in favor of in-person field employees to attract metered home families.
Nielsen has also conducted focus groups to find out why homes that declined to participate did not want to be metered.
This fall, Nielsen will post instructions and answers to diary homes’ most frequently asked questions on the Internet, with a Web site address printed on every diary in 2002. The company will begin testing of online diaries later this year.
Nielsen General Manager of Local Services Harry Stecker, who joined the company in January 1999 after serving as president of Petry Television, has been instrumental in bringing the changes to the markets. He oversees Nielsen’s local business, sales and marketing as well as customer needs across 210 markets in the country.
“Since we are the currency for television stations and [the] cable MSO marketplace, the analogy I give is just as the country needs a strong currency for a vibrant economy, we are the currency for the television marketplace-a multibillion-dollar industry,” Mr. Stecker said. “There should be no credibility issues with local stations and advertisers.”
Mr. Stecker said because of the company’s initiatives, there has been a higher response from homes that received diaries. In February 2000, out of hundreds of thousands of diaries sent out, 30.5 percent responded, while this February, Nielsen received a 32.6 percent response rate.
“Research companies around the country, not only in the television business, are facing a lower response rate by families due to a variety of reasons,” Mr. Stecker said. “Younger people respond at lower rates, and families are facing more telemarketers. We at Nielsen Media Research have actually reversed that trend, and that’s really important.”
Mr. Stecker credits the increase of 2 percentage points to the incentive of $5 given to homes that refused or did not call back. “People get more money and they feel more obligated to respond,” Mr. Stecker said.
Nielsen just secured long-term renewals from clients NBC and Paramount stations, and Mr. Stecker said, “Much of the ability to conclude those agreements was predicated on the recognition that we improved our product.”
Tom McClendon, vice president and director of research for Cox Broadcasting, said there seems to be a more “serious testing of new ideas” by Nielsen. “It’s encouraging to see Nielsen making these moves,” Mr. McClendon said. “Everything indicates it will improve response rates. At least Nielsen is stepping up and taking a shot. This has been the result of pretty aggressive testing, which they will implement in the coming surveys.”
Mr. Stecker said Nielsen also changed its software to allow staffers to edit diaries more intelligently-the software focuses on the name of the programs families are watching. “People may be confused about what the channel number is, but they certainly know the name of the program they’re watching, and we had to rewrite a lot of software in order to do that.”
Nielsen has also spent money to install cellular technology for homes that do not have phone service so the set-top data can be entered. A year ago, Nielsen also established its own “SWAT Team” that goes to various markets that need help getting the meters working after power outages and natural disasters. And Nielsen now supplies the nation’s 20,000 metered homes with two backup batteries.
While there are 5,000 people-meter homes nationwide used to gather network data, Boston became the first local market to get people-meter measurements last year. There are 420 people-meter homes in Boston; by August there will be 600.
The people-meter homes in Boston are not the same Nielsen homes that have traditional set meters, which do not give detailed demographic data when measuring local viewership.
Beginning with the May book, Nielsen will give its Boston clients local people-meter data. People Meters will continue to go through a “demonstration period” of between six months to a year, then all set meters in the market will be replaced by people meters.
The same thing will eventually happen around the country. Nielsen will launch people meters in nine more local markets in the next three years.
Last week, Nielsen announced AT&T Broadband as the first client in Boston to sign a multiyear contract for people-meter data in that market.