New Nielsen data sparks controversy

Aug 26, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Nielsen Media Research’s insistence that it was “not revising, adjusting or restating its audience data or its universe estimates for the 2001-2002 television season” has been met with a sense in some network quarters that that is exactly what the TV ratings service needs to do.
Nielsen should give credit to targeted networks such as The WB that have been “overdelivering” younger audiences in prime time, as well as to networks such as ABC and Fox that may not have been “underdelivering” by as much as previously believed, these network executives said..
But some executives on Madison Avenue believe that when Nielsen publishes its detailed 2001-2002 “adjustment factors” next week, “Nobody will go back and repost.” They say the only real impact on the business will be in research departments, and not on the buyers and sellers themselves or the 2001-2002 deals they struck.
“People that took cash back in the first half, are they going to tell the client to give the cash back [to the network]?” one senior advertising executive said. “If The WB, for example, says, `We are not getting credit for all that delivery,’ either you bite the bullet and everybody gets credit or nobody. You can’t do it piecemeal.”
“Nielsen’s in a tough position,” another executive said sympathetically. “They’re getting flak from all sides.”
One senior researcher, however, said if the rating service was indeed putting out the new numbers for analytical and informational purposes only, it should have waited a few more weeks until after the broadcast year had ended and audience deficiency unit negotiations were over.
A wholesale revision of the numbers on which the TV advertising business was based in the past season is unlikely, more than one ad executive said, while others said that is exactly what should be done. A Nielsen spokesman was not available for comment before deadline.
Nielsen has started sending clients market-by-market estimates for the new season that are the first to fully incorporate 2000 census data.
Major conclusions from the estimates include that the population of people living in “group quarters” (e.g., correctional institutions, nursing homes and juvenile institutions) has grown substantially and that a higher-than-normal number of geographic areas are showing a decline in total households from 2002 projections.