Arbitron Data Gives NBC A Crown Of Sorts

Ah, the first Saturday in May. There’s no better way to spend it than watching the Kentucky Derby in person below the spires at Churchill Downs. Still, a party in the neighbor’s backyard with the guy saying he makes an incredible mint julep and all those hats bought to wear once is not a bad way to spend Derby day.

But, the hoopla can be a bummer for NBC, which carries the three Triple Crown events. When everyone gathers around the TV set, the network gets a lot of out-of-home (OOH) viewers, but they're not counted in the Nielsen ratings.

Arbitron, however, is trying to build a business whetting network appetites for some way of tracking people watching sports in large groups or at a bar or perhaps even at Churchill Downs on a screen near the wager window. The company derives OOH ratings from its portable people meters (PPMs), used in 44 markets, where a panel of 70,000 consumers wear.

All three Triple Crown races this year received significant bumps in viewership numbers when OOH viewing was added in. The Derby led by many furlongs. For the Louisville race on May 5, data shows OOH viewing boosted the total in the 18-to-49 demo by 34%, according to Arbitron.



The 1.9 million viewers in that demo included 487,000 (25%) watching outside the home. (The data covers a 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. time period, which would include the flagship Derby race and some of the undercard.)

How large an increase was the Derby’s 34%? With all its parties, the Super Bowl received only a 25% increase via OOH viewing for its 18-to-49 total number.

Arbitron next month will measure OOH consumption for the Olympics on NBC. That might give NBC more grist to lobby advertisers to pay them for it. Media buyers would say they already factor in OOH viewing in sports before they pay the high prices.

After the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness – the second leg of the Triple Crown -- also had a notable 28% bump with the OOH numbers. Its total 982,000 viewers in the 18-to-49 demo included 216,000 (22%) watching outside the home.

Then, there was the Belmont, which looked to surpass the other two races in all metrics. I’ll Have Another was looking to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 after spectacular Derby and Preakness victories.

NBC was riding high with Nielsen expectations. Superlative Arbitron OOH numbers also wouldn’t hurt in next year’s Triple Crown sales pitch. Something like: “Hey, spend a ton and you’ll get all those people watching as they sneak out of the wedding reception for free.” 

But then I’ll Have Another crushingly scratched. For some reason, NBC still landed a large jump in the Nielsen numbers compared to 2011.

With Arbitron's numbers, the OOH viewing gave 18-to-49 viewership a 23% lift. Of the 1.2 million viewers in the demo, 221,000 (23%) came via OOH.

While there are other genres such as financial news (CNBC uses Arbitron data) that generate notable OOH viewing, sports would be the inarguable leader. Besides NBC, ESPN and Turner have employed the Arbitron data for sports.

If Nielsen isn’t in the OOH business – a venture with IMMI was shuttered in 2008 – and Arbitron has data that becomes increasingly valuable, is there a way to fuse metrics from both to get a single rating?

Arbitron senior vice president Carol Edwards said it’s “something the industry is interested in and Arbitron is open to.” But reaching an industry consensus won’t come at a thoroughbred pace.

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