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Nielsen Engages Time-Shift Fight

Aug 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Nielsen Media Research and many of its clients are at odds. Again.

Before the dust has settled from the battle over Local People Meters, a new round of disagreement has been triggered by Nielsen’s plans for measurement of time-shifted viewing from digital video recorders in its National People Meter sample.

Nielsen gave its clients an eight-page update on the ins and outs of the first phase of national DVR measurement scheduled to begin in September 2005. The first phase will kick off two months later than initially announced because of adjustments made as a result of trying to accommodate some clients’ wishes, according to Nielsen.

In: Data collected the previous night of live viewing in DVR homes, along with the usual overnight ratings.

Out: Overnight data on same-night playback of recorded programs, as well as overnight data on any programming in which rewind, pause or fast-forward functions-known as “trick” modes-was used. All playback data will be collected and combined with live tuning after seven days in what is called “Live Plus” estimates.

In: Homes that previously were not included in the sample because Nielsen regarded them as “technically difficult” to hook up, DVR homes that are likely to be receiving digital TV and that quite possibly will behave quite differently than and will be more upscale than the homes they replace in the national sample.

Out: Impact, or parallel, ratings data that will help broadcast and cable and syndicated programmers negotiate and project with confidence during the upfront for the 2005-2006 season.

“That is completely unacceptable,” Betsy Frank, senior VP of research and planning for Viacom’s MTV Networks, said of the impact .

Sara Erichson, senior VP of sales and marketing for Nielsen national services, said that with the predicted exponential growth of DVR homes-from an estimated national penetration of 4 percent now to as much as 10 percent by late 2005-“It became clear we had to speed up.”

“I vigorously disagree,” Ms. Frank said. “It is far more important that Nielsen clients understand the economic impact” of the changes.

The change will be significant, one broadcaster said. “The networks that have the highest-rated shows will suffer. … You’re going to see the upscale shows also being hurt.”

With Nielsen’s increasing focus on Hispanic and Asian viewing and the addition of DVR homes, the national sample will change monthly at least through 2006, making it hard to make projections based on history.

(Nielsen said the Nielsen/TiVo panel of 10,000 opt-in TiVo-equipped homes that are scheduled to begin churning out data this fall remains apart from the national sample, which will include an assortment of recording devices-from TiVo to cable set-top devices made by Scientific-Atlanta. Since TiVo users are often regarded as early adopters, they could display different behavior from new DVR users.)

Within large media empires there may be differing agendas. Sports channels may be interested almost solely in live ratings, local stations would need live plus same day, and networks need to see all viewing patterns of the previous night.

“My concern is that Nielsen can’t figure out a way to do all three overnight in the first phase of the DVR measurement,” said David Poltrack, executive VP of research and planning at Viacom-owned CBS.

“They’re making a judgment that the only viewing that’s worth measuring is pure live,” Ms. Frank said.

Ms. Erichson said, “It’s not Nielsen’s job to determine the value of commercial time.” She acknowledged that all agencies and advertisers and “some” programmers are focused on measurement of “truly live” programming, but Nielsen assured clients July 21 that being able to include same-day playback data overnight is “a top priority” for future phases for which Nielsen had set no dates. (Nielsen has said that playback viewing will be credited to the original time slot rather than to the HUT level of the time slot in which the programming is played back.)

Mr. Poltrack tracked viewing patterns in 546 DVR homes for two years and found that 40 percent of the viewing is playback. He said with Nielsen over-nighting only live viewing measurement in the first phase, “that number will become increasingly irrelevant.”

“Our response to all of them is that this is an initial phase,” Ms. Erichson said. “We know Nielsen needs to have completeness of measurement.”

She added, “At a certain point, some priorities have to trump some others.”