Dear Nielsen: Your Diaries Suck

The ad industry's ratings watchdog, the Media Rating Council (MRC), has withdrawn accreditation for Nielsen's diary-only local TV market reports, effective with the 2009 audit period, Nielsen disclosed in a notice sent to clients Wednesday afternoon.

Nielsen said it expects to regain MRC accreditation for its diary-only measurement service soon, and noted that the move does not affect its local people meter or its set-meter/diary local measurement services, which continue to be accredited by the MRC.

While diaries -- an old-fashioned method utilizing paper diaries that viewers fill out to tell Nielsen what they've watched -- have long been criticized as being an inferior technique for measuring TV audiences in the current hyper-fragmented world of TV viewing, the MRC's move appears to be related to a shift in the method Nielsen uses to recruit its diary households.

Over the past couple of years, Nielsen moved from a random telephone dialing recruitment method, because a number of households no longer rely on land lines, and the method cannot be used accurately to recruit mobile phone households. In its place, Nielsen developed an address-based method of recruiting that it said was more accurate. But in its most recent surveys, Nielsen apparently did not mail out enough of the diaries to those address-based households to generate sufficient sample size, leading to the MRC's decision.



"In the transition to address-based sampling, we underestimated our targeted sample size in two of the four measurement periods, but since November 2009 we have consistently delivered on our targets," Nielsen said in its client notice, adding, "Because we now have more experience with address-based sampling, we have demonstrated improvement in the delivery of our key quality metrics and met our targets for 2010."

Nielsen also said it acknowledges the "challenges that a diary-based methodology faces in today's television environment, but noted that it has not been "economically feasible" to introduce more advanced methods in the smallest TV markets that still rely on paper diaries.

Nielsen executives have previously said they continue to explore new advances in technology that might be able to provide a superior alternative to paper diaries at comparable costs.

1 comment about "Dear Nielsen: Your Diaries Suck".
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  1. Tony Jarvis from Olympic Media Consultancy, November 18, 2010 at 9:50 a.m.

    Advertisers, agencies and the video providers/local TV stations have for too long deserved a comprehensive, efficient, integrated approach to audience measurement in smaller markets. Diaries as a sole research technique to televisual measurement are outmoded and outdated irrespective of sample size. Respectfully, the small sample size argument on this overdue accreditiation decision is specious. Per the headline, "diaries suck" (based on the current Nielsen approach) and MRC members should have withdrawn accredition a very long time ago. However late, this MRC decison will inevitably accelerate the innovations and development of local market measurement by all the respective research companies in this space including Nielsen to the benefit of all parties.

    Do we hear an integration of set top box and return path data, PPM, internet panels, mobile, etc. etc?

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