Nielsen’s People Meter Goes Local

Nielsen's plan to make its People Meter a tool for measuring local market viewing is advancing. Its debut run in Boston, which began this spring, produced better numbers than the standard measurement procedure, so beginning at the start of the May 2002 sweep it will be the only measurement system used in Boston. This year it has been used in conjunction with the set tuning meter/diary system, the standard measurement system in 53 major markets, which Nielsen has used in different forms since the 1950s.

The People Meter has been used to measure national network viewing for 15 years, but it has never been used at the local level because of the cost involved.

The People Meter is the preferred method because it records personal viewing habits, with individuals pushing numbered buttons to register their viewing. The set meters only gather household data, with personalized data generated by the diaries, which are used six times a year during sweeps.

Data generated by the People Meter "far exceeds the existing meter-diary standard," says Ken Wollenberg, senior VP of strategic and business development at Nielsen. He says HUT (households using television) and PUT (people using television) numbers were higher with the People Meter. The numbers may influence future media buys. "If a station has a 20 share in May, you multiply it by the HUT of November and project it forward," Wollenberg says.

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Tony Jarvis, senior VP and director of strategic insight at Mediacom, a buying division of Grey Global Group, says the availability of demographic data on a continuous basis, which the People Meter provides, will indeed influence buying decisions. "We start to see the stream of data month by month and it improves our estimates of how shows will perform each month," he says. With the meter-diary standard, "you don't know the demographics on a day to day basis," he says.

Jarivs also says the People Meter provides a larger sample, referring to the fact that 600 viewers have taken part in the People Meter measurements, compared with 420 for the meter-diary system.

At this point only Boston has the People Meter, giving it "an advantage over other markets," Jarvis says. Nielsen's goal is to get it up and running in ten to 12 major markets within a few years. "It's a costly measure and can't go everywhere," Wollenberg says.

But Jarvis says, "It should have happened years ago," noting the People Meter has been used to measure network viewing for 14 years. The cost of installing People Meters and signing up families to participate has held it back, he says.

But he thinks the People Meter will ultimately serve to change the television advertising landscape, elevating spot against network. "Spot could have the opportunity to take a larger share of the TV budget," he says. He attributes the network hegemony partly to the fact that "we get big samples for network," compared with smaller samples for local markets. "Now the networks come in and scoop up spot money, but at the end of the day we have to drive brands for clients and want to buy markets on a spot basis, which we can do when there's more confidence in the measurements."

He says the People Meter isn't perfect though. He compares it with Arbitron's Portable People Meter, a smaller device that can be carried around to measure out of home viewing. Arbitron's device may produce even better data, Jarvis says, but is still under development. "We can't wait years for this," he says, indicating the impatience among media buyers for better television measurements that both Nielsen and Arbitron are racing to provide.

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