Nielsen Redefines 'Live,' Stretches To Playback Within Eight Seconds Of A Telecast

The introduction of digital video recorders into Nielsen's TV ratings is blurring the line between live and time-shifted viewing, and is altering the meaning of television time itself. It is also having a profound effect on another kind of time: the time it takes for Nielsen to process ratings, and release its reports. To deal with some new problems, Nielsen has more than doubled the definition it uses for "live" viewing, expanding it to any playback done within eight seconds of an actual telecast, and warns it may stretch it even further in the future.

For the past several weeks Nielsen has encountered numerous, unanticipated problems in both accurately metering, and processing viewing done via DVRs into its national TV ratings.

Many of the problems have to do with the differences between so-called "machine time" - the time it takes for DVRs to receive and play TV transmissions - and the real time Nielsen had been using to meter TV viewing. The difference has been significant enough to cause Nielsen's meters to be out of sync with the viewing done in DVR households, forcing Nielsen to change the rules it uses to define "live" TV.



"There have been a number of delays along the transmission line, even before it gets to the DVR," Jack Loftus, senior vice president-communications at Nielsen confirmed, adding that this problem has caused a "mismatch" between Nielsen's metered time and the actual time of telecasts in DVR homes. It was primarily this issue that caused Nielsen to delay the initial release of its new ratings reports by several days, Loftus confirmed.

Late last week Nielsen disclosed it has begun encountering new DVRs that are delaying TV time even more, forcing Nielsen to expand the definition it uses to classify live viewing.

The new DVRs automatically delay TV viewing by as much as five seconds without the viewer's knowledge (MediaDailyNews Jan. 6). To deal with the problem, Nielsen has changed its rules so that "any DVR playback that is within eight seconds of recording will be considered live." Conversely, any DVR playback that is more than eight seconds delayed will be deemed "playback." The new rule takes effect Jan. 11, and will be applied to all national and local ratings.

Previously, Nielsen had used a rule of "two to four" seconds as the cut-off for live viewing, Loftus said, but even the new rule may be extended further. "We may need to expand this time window further in the future to accommodate new technologies," Nielsen forewarned in a client notice late last week.

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