Nielsen Hatches Plan For Fourth Set Of Ratings, The One Spun To The Press

In what is likely to create further confusion if not outright anarchy in the TV ratings business beginning late this year, Nielsen Media Research is finalizing a plan that would add yet another stream of ratings data to an already convoluted plan for dealing with digital video recorders, MediaDailyNews has learned.

Nielsen, which previously said it would provide three streams of conflicting ratings data beginning in late December to deal with the lagging effects of DVR playback, will now add a fourth for journalists who track the TV ratings season.

The original plan was already confusing enough, with buyers and sellers jostling over which set will be used as the currency of TV advertising deals as they begin planning for 2006 post-buys and for the 2006-07 upfront advertising marketplace.

Because Nielsen will wait a full week before finalizing ratings estimates for DVR households, the TV audience researcher has already decided to release ratings data in three streams: One of live-only viewing minus any DVR playback, a second set that would provide live viewing plus the first day of DVR playback, and a third set that would provide live viewing plus seven-days worth of DVR playback. Playback beyond seven days is deemed negligible and will not be included in Nielsen's official counts.



Since advertisers and agencies are unsure how much of the DVR playback might be fast-forwarding through commercials, media buyers are emphasizing live viewing data, while TV sales executives want to cut deals based on ratings that include seven days of DVR playback.

"It's going to become a problem when it comes down to negotiating in the next upfront: which is the one to use," acknowledges Steve Sternberg, executive vice president-director of audience analysis at Interpublic's giant Magna Global TV negotiating unit.

Adding to that confusion, Nielsen now plans to create a fourth set of "hybrid" data for journalists who track the results of the TV season and for programmers who tout their season-to-date results in trade ads and press releases.

Since it is unlikely that many if any journalists are likely to wait an additional week for the live-plus seven days of DVR data to be compiled, Nielsen's new season-to-date ratings would be comprised of the average of all ratings data for all but the last week, which would be based only on live viewing minus any DVR playback.

While DVR penetration is still relatively low--somewhere between 7 percent and 10 percent depending on estimates--and the data disparities are not likely to be significant across the data sets, the prospect of having four sets of data circulating in a marketplace that already is prone to spin and distortion is raising new concerns among Nielsen clients.

"There's already tons of confusion on the information we give our clients now," acknowledged Karen Kratz Gyimesi, vice president and chief press officer at Nielsen, ticking off the multitude of data TV outlets dish out each Tuesday to the press when they are spinning their ratings results for the past week: "First there's the 56-metered market averages. Then a few hours later, the fast affiliate numbers come out, but they just include the network affiliates. Later in the afternoon, the full national numbers are released." Gyimesi said Nielsen has not fully vetted the new season-to-date ratings plan yet, but has begun discussing it with some of its national broadcast and cable network clients. She acknowledges that there is no ideal solution to the dilemma, but that Nielsen has no other choice if it was going to begin including DVR ratings, which start with its December 26 ratings reports.

"We're discussing this now with our editors," Gary Levin, a TV reporter at USA Today told MDN, adding that the newspaper, known for its coverage of Nielsen's stats, has not yet decided which data it will use. "My personal inclination is to go with live-plus same day DVR numbers," said Levin, adding, "The change isn't significant now, but in a few years it could be a big deal, so we might as well make the change now."

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