On-Campus Viewing High in Nielsen Test

Mar 21, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Early data from Nielsen Media Research’s Extended Home Study of college living quarters and second homes indicates that college students are watching more television than previously thought.

Students, with an average age of 20 in the October 2004 test sample, watched an average of 221 minutes of TV per day in their college residences, with both female and male participants’ viewing highest in late prime and late-night hours.

Ad-supported cable programming represented 60.1 percent of college viewing in the October sample, while 34.1 percent was of broadcast programming. Public broadcast viewing represented less than 1 percent.

Data from the second homes sample showed that those viewers tended to be older (average age 60) and to watch far less TV than did the participants in college locations.

The long-awaited Extended Home report was presented last Tuesday to the 300-plus people attending Nielsen’s biennial client meeting in Miami.

High on the short list of questions voiced by client-sponsors after they analyzed the data:

w If second-home viewing averaged only 39 minutes per day, only 4 percent of it by visitors, is it worth the expense of metering those residences-even if the households presumably are upscale-to include that data in the National People Meter sample? Or does the definition of “second home” need to be opened up to get a more representative view of that segment of the audience?

w If viewing in metered college residences is so high (44 percent of it by visitors, a category that was dominated by roommates), when do these sample students hit the books?

“That seems high, even higher than I had imagined. Aren’t they supposed to be studying?” mused Betsy Frank, executive VP of research and planning for cable networks, film and publishing at Viacom. Viacom’s MTV Networks and CBS are sponsoring the test, along with CBS, Fox Broadcasting and Time Warner’s Turner Networks and The WB.

Among other interesting, if not unexpected, bits of data presented at last week’s meeting:

w In second homes, broadcast network affiliates dominated, clocking 48.6 percent of the viewing time to cable’s 34.1 percent, and PBS viewing represented 11.6 percent. Viewing also peaked and dropped off before prime time was over.

On the low level of viewing recorded in second homes, where the median age of the heads of household was 60, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said there has been speculation that there are fewer TV sets than in the primary Nielsen homes of Extended Home test participants. Asked whether the second-home owners also are light viewers when they are in their primary homes, which already are in the National People Meter sample, Mr. Loftus said that can’t be known until “longitudinal studies” and other analyses are conducted.

Since the Extended Home viewing last October by 18- to 34-year-olds appeared to lift national ratings for selected familiar programs (from The WB’s “Smallville” and ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” to NFL coverage on CBS), the ability to count them could have a big aggregate impact on ad revenues.

“We still need to work with Nielsen to get closer to that,” said Melva Benoit, senior VP of research and marketing for Fox Broadcasting.

The sponsor-clients, all of whom say this two-year move toward a more accurate picture of TV usage has been a long time coming, are pleased that the Extended Home test has shown it is possible to get cooperation and reliable collection of the data. And as they await further data to put under the microscope, their only big remaining questions now seem to be:

w How much this will cost?

“The only way clients might say `Don’t move forward with this’ is if Nielsen added a significant surcharge,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting.

w How quickly can Nielsen integrate the extended samples into the national sample?

Nielsen has a target of fall 2006.

w Is the college sample as rich a motherlode of previously uncounted viewing by young viewers as it appears to be, and will advertisers pay premiums for the sought-after demo?

“Because these are young people, they are traditionally among the lightest viewers of television, but apparently one of the reasons that’s been overstated is because we haven’t measured it all. What happens is that when these kids go away [to college], they’re counted as if they’re not viewing at all,” Mr. Wakshlag said.

“We now have a good gauge of what these people are doing and how they’re actually watching television.”