Nielsen Unveils Holiday 'Recovery Plan,' Predicts Big Uptake In New Technology

As Nielsen prepares to make one of its biggest shifts ever in the way it measures and reports television ratings, chinks in its data reporting systems have begun to grow apparent. In recent weeks, Nielsen's so-called "overnight" ratings have been released hours later than they are supposed to be, and some observers believe that is a harbinger for even greater problems as Nielsen plans to release a multiplicity of data streams to both clients and the media--creating the opportunity for more spin, confusion, and data management issues than ever before in its history. The timing of the plan, which begins with the release of ratings data on Dec. 28, reflecting ratings for Dec. 26--the day Nielsen begins reporting multiple streams of ratings related to digital video recorders--couldn't be worse, as it coincides with a traditionally disruptive holiday season.

The holiday season--when many people in Nielsen's TV ratings sample move around, or have their TV viewing patterns significantly disrupted--always is a strain on Nielsen's systems, but last week Nielsen released a so-called "Sample Recovery Plan" to clients that looks more like a battle plan. In it, Nielsen concedes that the six-week period will "test our editing rules like no other time of the year."

Aside from the displacement of people in its ratings sample, the holiday season marks a time when Nielsen "households" get a wide range of new consumer electronic devices that traditionally affect the way they use television. This year, Nielsen predicts major uptakes in the following technologies:


* DVD players
* Dual-deck DVD and VHS players
* DVD recorders
* Low-cost TVs and combination TV/VCR and TV/DVD units
* Video Games
* DBS satellite TV systems

One thing Nielsen does not predict a significant uptick in is standalone DVR units, the device that is sparking the major change in Nielsen's measurement and reporting systems beginning in about a week. At that time, Nielsen will begin issuing three streams of data for clients: "live," "live" plus same day of DVR playback; and "live" plus seven days of DVR playback.

Meanwhile, Nielsen has confirmed a plan to release yet another stream of data to journalists who cover the TV ratings business.

"...During the past several weeks we have met with clients to discuss how best to produce weekly and season-to-date national averages for the press," the company said in a notice to clients last week. "Based on those conversations, we have decided that once we begin providing the three streams of national data ('live,' 'live plus same day,' and 'live plus seven day') the default stream of data posted on the weekly ratings section of the press website will be 'live plus same day."

Season-to-date estimates will be based on a combination of 'live plus same day' for the current two weeks and 'live plus seven days' for all weeks prior. News media that prefer to base their rankings on 'live' or 'live plus seven' will be able to do so through additional links on the website."

Nielsen has scheduled a briefing with journalists for this week to help explain the new data streams, and how they can use them in their reporting.