As it seeks a more competitive market for local TV ratings, Post-Newsweek said Monday it will begin using set-top-box (STB) data from Rentrak across its station group. And CEO Alan Frank urged other stations and advertisers to help grow Rentrak’s reach as the data could become a widely used currency.
While others develop their strategy, Dave Boylan, who heads Post-Newsweek’s ABC station in Miami, will look to speed implementation in his market. Boylan has been searching for an alternative to Nielsen for some time and held extensive conversations urging the company to upgrade its methodology.
Even Nielsen’s introduction of local people meters (LPMs) three years ago in Miami didn’t alleviate his concerns. Recently, he served as a witness for a competitor’s unsuccessful anti-trust case against Nielsen.
“To get more reliable and accurate ratings information in this multi-channel world, we need to remember the challenge a network anchor made in the movie ‘Network,’” Boylan said. “Both media buyers and sellers need to get out of their chairs, stick their heads out of their windows and shout ‘I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.’ Only then, will Nielsen feel there is a sense of urgency to improve their methodology. And only then, will the new emerging competitors in the research business get the much-needed support they need from our industry.”
Boylan has been evaluating the benefits of STB data for about two years at WPLG as Post-Newsweek originally signed to use the Rentrak data in its Miami and Houston markets. And Boylan has found Rentrak’s larger sample size carries a notable advantage: with more homes measured, there is less ratings unpredictability.
“The daily swing looks like an EKG,” said Boylan.
A day-by-day chart can resemble a mountain range because even in a market as large as Miami, a mere six people can bring significant swings in ratings.
Consider: the Nielsen panel in the Miami DMA includes roughly 600 people ages 25 to 54. And, just six of those account for a rating point, WPLG said.
So, if six additional viewers decide to watch the late news on a whim, that can create a ratings spike. Ratings variations could be more pronounced with a prime-time show that runs once a week.
Further frustration for Boylan comes because his station feels as if it is working with a sample size of an even lesser 450. That’s because there are so many Spanish speakers in Miami, who don't watch WPLG at all.
“Generally speaking, in the market of Miami,” Boylan said, “there are about two dozen people that determine the ratings of all newscasts.” (It might be hard to pin Boylan's Nielsen frustration on sour grapes since WPLG does well in news ratings, generally finishing second.)
Rentrak offers a far larger sample than Nielsen in number of households -- 167 times larger. Nielsen’s Miami sample includes about 600 homes, while Rentrak culls data from 100,000.
Again, just six households in the Nielsen panel equal a rating point. In Rentrak calculations, it takes 2,500 homes to move the needle up or down by that amount.
Boylan says recently the Rentrak information has become more useful because it has some demographic data attached via a combination with Epsilon data. A lack of demographic information has been a criticism of STB data. So has an inability to account for when a box is on, but a person isn’t watching -- and to count viewing in homes that receive TV over the air.
But Boylan said he is confident that the Rentrak system, which uses projections along with census-level data, is solid. “We certainly acknowledge that there are flaws with set-top-box ratings, however we find there are perhaps even more flaws with the LPMs,” said Boylan, who is set to become head of the ABC affiliates board.
Post-Newsweek’s Alan Frank told TVNewsCheck that the station group could stop subscribing to Nielsen when its contract expires and he has shown a willingness to take on the establishment. But Nielsen is developing a service melding STB data with its traditional methods that is set to come out late next year and Frank likely will want to review the new Nielsen service before cutting the chord.
(Separately, Nielsen is considerably more expensive than Rentrak, which could be another deterrent. In 2007, the owner of the Miami NBC station signed a Nielsen contract costing it a minimum of $788,000 a year, according to court documents in the anti-trust suit.)
"We continue to work with Post-Newsweek and the entire industry to share our vision for increased sample size and improved market representation," Nielsen said.
WPLG's Boylan said Post-Newsweek is interested enough in more reliable ratings that it has evaluated other STB-based services, though it has found Rentrak is the most valuable.
So far, Boylan’s station has not inked any deals with advertisers, where the Rentrak data serves as a currency, though he is confident that will come. The main reason, he says, is agencies want “continuity market to market.”
Still, WPLG’s new-business efforts have benefited. Advertisers new to TV appreciate data based on a wider swath of a market, Boylan said.
“Our goal is more accurate research and we will do whatever we can to hit that goal,” he said.