Nielsen Uncovers A Reason For Slackening Network Ratings: Turns Out, It's Slackers

Following an exhaustive, months-long investigation that dug into every conceivable corner of its research operations, Nielsen Media Research late Monday released a report revealing that the real culprits behind the erosion in network primetime viewing this season are Dependent Young Adults. Or, in Nielsen parlance: DYAs.

These DYAs are young adults 18-34 who live under the roof of another head of household - presumably mom and/or dad - and who watch considerably less TV than their independent young adult counterparts. And according to Nielsen, they tend to use their TV sets to play video games or DVDs instead of watching primetime network TV shows.

The 43-page report estimates that viewing of DVDs, VCRs, and video games among men 18-24 - the primary component of the DYA segment - increased by 9 percent this season.

The study also indicates that improvements in the composition of Nielsen's national TV ratings sample have made it more representative of real world viewing, a factor the report says also contributed to declines in TV ratings. Among other things, Nielsen noted that Hispanics and young adults - including the so-called DYAs - are "more representative" of the U.S. population than they were before.



Nielsen estimated that such "methodological improvements" accounted for about 40 percent of the reported decline in prime time viewing among men 18-34 this season, and that the slacker-like behavior of DYAs accounted for a "significant component" of the rest.

Nielsen executives say the report proves that the decline in viewing among young men reflects genuine behavior and not flaws in Nielsen's research methods, a claim the major broadcast networks continue to challenge (see related story in today's MediaDailyNews).

In another revelation, the report provides new data showing that the percentage of PVR (personal video recorder) households has risen to 3 percent of Nielsen's ratings sample this season from 2 percent last season, although their behavior is not a factor in changing viewing patterns - yet. Nielsen continues to exclude PVR households, as well as other "technically difficult" homes, from its sample.

Nielsen says the main reason for the exclusion is that it has yet to establish rules with its clients for how to credit viewing, recording, and playback via PVRs. The report also concluded that the omission of such households from the Nielsen sample has not had a negative impact on the accuracy of Nielsen's ratings.

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