The Counting of DVR Use to Delay Nielsens

Dec 5, 2005  •  Post A Comment

The November 2005 sweeps is likely to be remembered as the last before the big change.

That’s because starting Dec. 26, Nielsen Media Research will begin releasing data on the national measurement of time-shifted, or DVR, viewing.

Incorporating this new data is expected to delay delivery of ratings information, making the process of calling a close sweeps like the one that just ended more drawn-out and difficult. Not only that, at least one expert said the information could play into upfront negotiations as soon as next season.

For years, any Nielsen household with a TiVo was branded a “technical difficulty” and promptly removed from the ratings sample, but the 6 percent to 7 percent of homes Nielsen estimates have DVR devices will, for the first time, become part of the sampled fold.

The addition of DVR information will make figuring out close sweeps results more difficult and longer to call.

“This is the last time we’ll be able to get these ratings real time,” Brad Adgate, senior VP and corporate research director for Horizon Media said.

At a meeting with television industry reporters last week, Fox research executives went over some of the expected delays in ratings information as Nielsen begins offering “live,” “live plus same day,” and “live plus seven day” numbers.

“Live” refers to viewers who don’t use DVRs or who catch up to a live telecast using a DVR; “live plus same day” refers to viewers who use their DVRs to watch a program the same day it was telecast; and “live plus seven day” refers to viewers who play back a program within seven days of telecast. DVR usage beyond a week from telecast will not be rated.

The introduction of live plus same day numbers will push back by one hour the arrival of Fast Nationals, which are currently available at 10 a.m. (ET). Nationals won’t be offered until 4:30 p.m., 90 minutes later than they are currently available.

In a sweep like November 2005, in which the adults 18 to 49 rating was a tie, a conclusive number that takes into account full DVR viewing might not be available until Nielsen releases Final ratings 11 business days after the end of the last report week. In its meeting Fox used the example of the upcoming May 2006 sweeps, in which Final numbers aren’t expected to be out until June 12.

At least for now, aside from the inconvenience of getting information later than usual, the impact of the DVR numbers is expected to be limited, Mr. Adgate said. “Initially, it’s not going to cause that much of a change because penetration is kind of low,” he said.

While the delays will be a source of inconvenience to industry executives who need to process daily numbers, the big ratings picture won’t get lost for weeks on end because of DVR measurement, he said.

“The consumers are very habitual,” Mr. Adgate said. “You can pretty much make an educated guess on what the final, final rating will be.”

Still, the new data could have an impact on business as soon as next season, Mr. Adgate said. “Perhaps by upfront next year it will be interesting to see how that plays into negotiations.”

DVRs are only the beginning, Mr. Adgate said. If at some point penetration builds, devices like the video iPod and other technologies will have to be rated.