Two days after announcing a startling plan to introduce mathematical modeling to estimate nearly half the viewing in its national TV audience sample, a top Nielsen executive overseeing the initiative spoke with MediaDailyNews to set the record straight, clarifying that the method will not be included into its official ratings until clients have had time to review its impact and approve it.
“We need client acceptance for us to roll out this methodology,” Farshad Family, senior vice president-local product leadership, said in response to an MDN report that Nielsen might include the new method effective with the new TV season. Family said the method was one part of a broader plan to expand Nielsen’s national TV audience sample, another part -- the rollout of new people meter households -- will begin to impact official TV ratings beginning Sept. 29.
Family said about 400 new people meter homes would be added to the sample effective with that date, and another 1,800 would be added to the national sample over the next two quarters. He said that plan, as well as the new modeling method -- which Nielsen calls a “viewer assignment methodology” -- have been communicated to some clients, as well as industry watchdog the Media Rating Council, since 2013. But some Nielsen clients said they were surprised by the mathematical modeling component of the plan, and Family acknowledged that Nielsen may not have communicated it to all of its clients until it sent an official communication to clients on Wednesday.
Family said the clients that had previously been informed were mainly the ones who “actively participate” in MRC meetings. He also said Nielsen still has work to do with the MRC to convince the self-regulatory industry body that the new method passes muster and merits accreditation, but he said Nielsen executives are confident about the plan.
“We’re fairly confident in the approach and the methodology that we developed, however, we still need to demonstrate that with our clients,” he said.
Despite that confidence, Family acknowledged that the plan is complex and complicated, and said he needed to check with Nielsen’s “scientists” on several questions posed by MDN, including exactly how Nielsen can “double” the “effective size” of its national TV ratings sample by modeling demographic data from its national people meters to thousands of local TV set meters dispersed around the country.
Nielsen’s national people meter sample currently is nearly 25,000 households. Some of the increase will come from the 2,200 new people meters it will add to the national sample. The balance will come from modeling 13,000 local TV set meters and mathematically modeling viewing behavior from the national people meters to them.
Asked how 13,000 set meters could contribute to doubling the size of a panel that is currently nearly 25,000, Family explained it was due to “weighting” and the fact that some homes have more weight than other homes, and that it works out mathematically.
While the method may be mathematically scientific, it represents a huge shift for some Nielsen clients, because national TV ratings historically have been based on a sample of actual viewers, not modeled viewing behavior.
In addition to the national TV sample expansion plan, Family said Nielsen also announced an expansion of its local TV ratings sample to local TV ratings clients this week. That plan does not involve and mathematical modeling and strictly involves the rollout of more metered households.
That plan, he said, will add a total of 3,600 more local people meter households over the next two years.
“This is a big investment Nielsen is making,” he said, adding, “we’re committed to this.”