Nielsen Records Tiny Glitch In Ratings

Nielsen says a software glitch resulted in some TV ratings being attributed incorrectly among broadcast and syndication programming since March.

But the TV measurement service added that 98% to 99% of ratings would not be affected by more than .05 of a ratings point.

Cable networks and local programming were unaffected.

Recently, some analysts have speculated that ABC’s ratings were apparently given more viewership than other outlets during the opening two weeks of the new 2014-2015 TV season -- especially when it came to increases coming with final live-plus-same-day program rating.

Nielsen executives declined to specify any networks that were affected. Nielsen said the technical error was discovered Oct.6, revealing the erroneous data that stemmed from March 2.

Nielsen has yet to release its first wave of C3 ratings -- the average commercial ratings plus three days of time-shifted viewing data that the majority of TV advertisers used as a measure in guaranteeing their media deals with national TV networks.

"Watching TV" photo from Shutterstock.



6 comments about "Nielsen Records Tiny Glitch In Ratings".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, October 10, 2014 at 6:07 p.m.

    Hypothetical: Let's say a tenth (.1) of a rating point in network prime is worth $100 million dollars over the course of a season, then half of that tenth of a rating point (.05) is worth $50 million dollars. I realize, Wayne, you are trying not to engage in hysterics or histrionics. On the other hand, think about being a network researcher who has to tell the network CFO (and the corporate CEO) of a publicly held media company that their TV network's ratings have been understated or overstated by .05 rating points for 7 months. Where talking cumulative harm. What would be the appropriate corporate response, if you need to cover audience delivery shortfalls or uncompensated over-delivery, because you relied on a Global Media Research Company that you paid 100's of million dollars annually to measure your audiences accurately and reliably? It sounds like the TV Ratings Industry is overdue for an investigation by the FTC. Too many yeears have passed since the 1963 Congressional Hearings. Certainly, the MRC needs to ramp up it's game of diligent watchdog. And just think, Nielsen is proposing to model half the viewing data in its national service to reduce the Standard Error (SE). What about the Methodological Error (ME) that harms the validity of the data, while hyping its fabricated reliability. Finally, why did Nielsen wait until today (10.10) to disclose the persistent error. Could it have something to do with reporting earning to Wall Street yesterday (10.9). For all our sakes, I hope not. Wayne, tell it like it is, not as certain sources wish it would be.

  2. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, October 10, 2014 at 6:28 p.m.

    It appears that Nielsen's Earnings Report will be delivered in two weeks time:



    NEW YORK--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Nielsen N.V. (NYSE:NLSN), a leading global provider of information and insights into what consumers watch and buy, today announced that it will report its financial results for the third quarter 2014 on Thursday, October 23, 2014.

    The Company will host a conference call to discuss its results at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time on that date. A press release will be available on the Company’s website prior to the call.

    Interested parties are invited to listen to the webcast on Nielsen’s Investor Relations website at Within the United States, listeners can also access the call by dialing +1-877-201-0168. Callers outside the U.S. can dial +1-647-788-4901. The conference ID for the call is 14125493.

    A replay of the event will be available on Nielsen’s Investor Relations website,, from 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time, October 23, 2014 until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, November 3, 2014. The replay can be accessed from within the United States by dialing +1-855-859-2056. Other callers can access the replay at +1-404-537-3406. The replay pass code is 14125493.

    About Nielsen

    Nielsen N.V. (NYSE:NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit

    Source: Nielsen N.V.

    Nielsen N.V.

    Investor Relations:

    Kate Vanek, 1-646-654-4593


    Media Relations:

    Andrew McCaskill, 1-646-564-5577

  3. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, October 10, 2014 at 6:47 p.m.

    VARIETY: October 10, 2014 | 09:35AM PT
    Brian Steinberg, Senior TV Editor. @bristei
    A software bug has resulted in TV ratings being allocated incorrectly among broadcast and syndication programming since March, according to executives at Nielsen, the measurement service whose rankings form the basis of how advertisers pay for TV commercials.

    At issue is a process used by the company when it moves from its initial survey of national ratings to its final one. When Nielsen calculates its early “fast national” ratings, some sources of viewership are not properly labeled and the data is put aside as “all other television” until they can be identified and tabulated properly. But Nielsen has discovered that some of that early unidentified data was improperly attributed to ABC programming, explained David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS Corp., who said CBS contacted Nielsen about the issue three weeks ago, which he believes spurred the company’s investigation.

    Because of the error in its systems, “we started to credit that viewing to different programs,” explained Patricia McDonough, Nielsen’s senior VP of planning policy and analysis, in a Friday conference call with reporters. “Some of that was done to the wrong source.”

    Executives said 98% to 99% of ratings would not be affected by more than .05 of a ratings point. Cable networks and local programming are unaffected by the snafu.
    Nielsen said it uncovered a technical error on October 6 that revealed incorrect measurement of national network TV ratings over several months, resulting in the incorrect attribution of “small amounts of viewing.” The error was introduced on March 2, the company said. The glitch affected both primetime and total day ratings, executives said.

    Executives from at least two broadcast networks expect to be awarded some degree of viewership they might otherwise have lost. ...

    The measurement hiccup comes as Nielsen is under pressure to measure all kinds of new ways consumers have to watch video content that was once solely distributed by television. ...

    Glitches in data collection are not uncommon, said Poltrack, but TV networks want to be more certain that Nielsen is monitoring its efforts. “We’d like to know what operational thing you’re going to put in place so that you discover it, as opposed to us.”

  4. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, October 12, 2014 at 5:14 p.m.

    Wayne, this is no "glitch." This is a major, persistent malfunction, symptomatic of systemic error and much worse to follow...

    The real issue is not TV ratings for News by talent and network, but Nielsen Audience Ratings for TV overall: program by program, newscast by newscast. The Saturday (10.11.14) NYT's headline read: "TV Ratings by Nielsen Had Errors for Months." Hence, Television Journalists and Journalists who cover Television (and Media) should be focusing on the accuracy and reliability of the entire medium's measurement. That is the epic story here for all concerned.

    Just observe: Beloved Nielsen SVP, Pat McDonough, who is soon to retire, has been forced to defend the TV ratings “gin mill,” while inscrutable CEO, Mitch Barns, remains invisible and silent, like Kim Jong-un. What is Nielsen hiding? It's time for the FTC to confront the ratings monopoly and force the issue of professional scientific accountability. Enough is enough.

    For example, Nielsen is now working on to implement plans to increase the apparent "statistical reliability" of its ratings by appearing to significantly reduce the standard errors (SE) of its estimates. In fact, Nielsen will be diminishing the "statistical validity" (i.e., accuracy) of its ratings estimates. Instead of tabulating (i.e., counting) the actual viewership from NPM (Nielsen People Meter) Households, as it ought to -- and has claimed to for more than 5 decades, Nielsen will model (i.e., arithmetically guess) the sample panel’s viewing data in a substantial portion of its newly "Expanded Sample Frame.” And it ought to be noted that the expansion will come predominantly from households equipped solely with "archaic" set meters, not modernized People Meters (i.e., GTAM/STPM).

    Concerns about this plan from respected researchers and media & marketing professionals have nothing to do with a resistance to science or advanced analytical techniques applied to big data. Rather, in its efforts to be all things to all potential customers, Nielsen is destroying the core values of its company and its products. Arthur C. Nielsen admonished: "Watch every detail that affects the accuracy of your work." Alas, the institutional memory is being rooted out for the sake of popularity and profitability. No pursuit of the scientific method or measurement principles here.

    If ratings are to be considered the currency of the marketing, advertising and media industries, then Nielsen is called to the highest level of accountability, from which it has fallen far short.

    What industry executives and decision-makers seek is not miracles, but practical wisdom. This is not a new age concept, but a principle that goes back to Aristotle, who would advise all that we must not cease from searching for the right ways to do the right things.

    Wayne, call it what it is: not a glitch; but a fiasco.

    [Nicholas P. Schiavone: Former NBC Research Chief & Chairman, CONTAM, 1990 to 1999]

  5. Jacqueline Redick from Willson, October 12, 2014 at 8:27 p.m.

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  6. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, October 15, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.

    To the Editor-In-Chief of MediaPost: Could MediaPost Publications filter advertising and marketing messages from the comments pages of its first-rate periodicals? It's ironic to request such "censorship," but we are not talking about freedom-of-speech. We are talking about editorial quality control. Thank you very much.

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