Nielsen not telling whole cable story

Aug 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Advertisers are buying local cable programming based on potentially misleading Nielsen data, according to an unreleased analysis of Nielsen Media Research numbers by the Television Bureau of Advertising.
That analysis, obtained by Electronic Media, measures the viewer shortfall for local cable advertising delivered on an alternative delivery system (ADS), the great preponderance of which is via direct broadcast satellite. The study concludes both that ADS is rising and that it has “significantly eroded” local cable systems’ advertising delivery.
ADS penetration stood at 12.8 percent in May, according to Nielsen, with DBS itself accounting for 11 percent of that penetration. Other estimates fix DBS national penetration higher, at around 18 percent. That ADS penetration level, as a percentage of cable households, is even higher in 10 of the top 50 markets, including Dallas-Fort Worth (30 percent), Memphis, Tenn. (21.7 percent), and Nashville, Tenn. (26.1 percent), according to the TVB.
The TVB counts among its members advertising sales rep firms and nearly 500 individual stations, many of which could be negatively impacted by ratings that do not take ADS into account.
Satellite-delivered cable programming has no local insertion capability, according to the TVB, yet Nielsen does not break out local cable ratings numbers into their two constituent components, wired cable and ADS. It is therefore possible for an agency or an advertiser to overestimate local cable’s reach by 30 percent or more in an individual market with high satellite penetration.
Nielsen has acknowledged the ADS problem, TVB President Chris Rohrs said, and the ratings service has said “repeatedly” that it will address the issue by rewriting its local reporting system software. However, as recently as last month, a Nielsen executive could not provide TVB with a timetable for changeover to a new reporting system, Mr. Rohrs said.
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen,” a Nielsen spokesman said, acknowledging that TVB is “absolutely” right about the nature of the problem. “If it was a simple fix, we could do it. But it’s not a simple fix.”
In the meantime, TVB’s broadcast-station members’ ratings “are straightforward as printed in the [Nielsen] books,” Mr. Rohrs said. “Our concern is that a buyer of local cable might overestimate in rather dramatic fashion the potential delivery of wired cable in the market.” That would give cable an “unfair competitive advantage to the broadcast numbers,” Mr. Rohrs said.
TVB raises this issue with advertisers and agencies whenever possible, Mr. Rohrs said. About half of the agencies and advertisers with whom the TVB is in touch about the issue “look at the numbers carefully and make adjustments accordingly,” he said, while the other half do not.
Unless Nielsen changes its reporting methods for local cable, Mr. Rohrs will keep advising his members, “Take nothing for granted; make sure that you’re out there providing the adjustment factor in your market to any advertiser who’s buying cable locally.”