The decision is the latest attempt by Nielsen to test how incentives - usually cash payments to individuals and/or households - influence their participation in Nielsen's ratings samples. Nielsen executives would not say how much more they will be paying Spanish-speaking households during the test, or what the total amount of cash payments might be, but last fall Nielsen was exploring a plan that could boost cash payments to levels that would exceed the $600 per year that would require Nielsen households to report it to the Internal Revenue Service as income. Nielsen has apparently backed away from those levels due to two concerns: One that the tax liability might be a turn off for some Nielsen households; and two, that the extra cash might alter lifestyles in those Nielsen households that could influence the way they watch television. Among other things, Nielsen has been concerned that the extra cash could be used to by new electronic equipment such as DVD players or DVRs, or to pay for premium TV channels that could change viewing habits.
A Nielsen spokesman said that preliminary research conducted by the ratings company indicates higher financial incentives do not have an impact on the lifestyles of Nielsen households.
"We don't think these added incentives to Spanish-dominant homes will impact lifestyles," he said.
The experiment, meanwhile, is raising other concerns, because it constitutes a test on a live ratings sample, something that violates industry guidelines. However, Nielsen has reviewed its plans with the Media Rating Council, the media industry's ratings watchdog, which granted Nielsen a waiver on that rule to conduct the test.
"Occasionally, ratings services come to us with requests to do live tests on their samples and we take a look at it and sometimes approve it," said George Ivie, executive director and CEO of the MRC, adding, "We approved this."
Ivie said that before sanctioning the Nielsen test, the MRC looked at the "downside risk" it could have on the integrity of Nielsen's ratings vs. the upside potential of improving the quality of its sample by getting more Spanish-speaking households involved.