Ratings Redefinitions Grow Frequent, Now Nielsen Changes Meaning Of 'Reach'

In a move that has profound implications for the way advertisers and agencies plan and buy television, Nielsen Tuesday informed clients it will make some fundamental changes in the way it calculates its so-called "average audience" ratings - long the currency of the $80 billion TV advertising marketplace. Perhaps the most significant of the changes is that Nielsen will begin including duplicate viewing to all program telecasts in its average audience ratings, a move that could undermine one of the core tenets of Madison Avenue's media planning theory: unduplicated reach.

Nielsen said it is making the moves, effective in December, to help prepare for other big changes in the way it factors television audience ratings, including the inclusion of so-called "extended screen" viewing of TV programs viewed online. While the absolute amount of duplicate viewing that currently takes place via the Internet and various devices such as digital video recorders and video-on-demand services, currently is small, it is expected to grow over time, and potentially could dilute the meaning of audience reach.

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"Reach and frequency will certainly be impacted," Don Seaman, vice president-director of communications analysis at MPG said in response to the Nielsen changes, which are especially vexing as they follow other recent shifts that have aggravated agencies and advertisers by undermining or diluting the value of other television advertising currencies, especially its recent decision to do away with "live" audience viewing in its local TV ratings (see related story in today's edition).

"Now it seems like Nielsen's telling us that we can hit a target more than once with the same bullet, so to speak," Seaman said, noting that the notion of unduplicated reach has been important for Madison Avenue, because it is one of the ways agencies and advertisers plan their advertising budgets to reach their target audiences most effectively, and with as little duplicated waste as possible.

"It's unlikely that any repeated program content viewing will deliver repeated commercial viewing," Seaman noted, adding that the Nielsen changes - like its recent decision on local TV ratings - seem have been made to favor the goals of certain clients over others.

"Once again, the metric is favoring the content providers and probably overstating what the actual commercial impact really is."

A Nielsen spokesman said the absolute impact of the duplicate viewing currently is miniscule, so should not impact the effectiveness of most TV advertising plans.

"The impact is definitely pretty small," said Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes. "The estimate is that it will increase viewing under 1%." The less than 1% figure, he said, is the amount Nielsen estimates the inclusion of duplicate viewing done via digital video recorders will have on the absolute size of average audience ratings. He said the impact of online viewing of TV programs currently is negligible, but acknowledged that it is expected to grow over time, as more of the TV industry embraces a "TV everywhere" mantra.

Nielsen will begin releasing including "evaluation data" for viewing of TV programs done online in September, and will deliver them by the end of the year.

Nielsen said it would make other adjustments to important calculations related to its average audience ratings concurrent with these moves, including how it calculates HUTs (households using television) and PUTs (people using television), which are the universe from which ratings are derived. (A rating point equals 1% of the audience available in a household or persons universe, nationally or locally.)

Holmes noted that the changes are being done under the watchful eye of industry ratings watchdog the Media Rating Council, and that Nielsen clients have been involved in the process.

He also noted that the inclusion of duplicate viewing has been a long-standing practice in the television syndication business, where so-called "gross average audience" ratings, or GAAs, are the currency of the realm, but that is due to the nature in which syndicated TV shows are distributed and scheduled, often airing multiple times a week in the same market.

4 comments about "Ratings Redefinitions Grow Frequent, Now Nielsen Changes Meaning Of 'Reach'".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, March 31, 2010 at 9:30 a.m.

    How does that old adage go? If at first you don't succeed, change (or at least redefine) the metrics.

  2. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, March 31, 2010 at 10:39 a.m.

    What's Nielsen's metric du jour? I don't know, but they got one every day (thanks, Yogi).

  3. Carl LaFong, March 31, 2010 at 10:44 a.m.

    The reason Nielsen is giving the networks this gift is because the buying agencies have gotten rid of most of the research people who would have screamed bloody murder about it.

  4. Fraser Elliott from Opinions expressed herein are solely my own, March 31, 2010 at 6:23 p.m.

    This is an outrage. Really. It may be hard for many people to believe, especially when they use their own habits as a frame of reference, but duplicate viewing accounts for a significant portion of total viewership in some cases, especially movies (from what I recall of having studied it some time ago), and especially on cable.

    I just can't understand why, in a world rapidly coming to require increased granularity of data, Nielsen would be making this move in the opposite direction.

    The Set-Top Data people must be busy cleaning their screens after spitting their coffee upon reading this. What a feather in their collective cap.

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