Nielsen Green Lights Blue Screens In New Orleans, Adds Quality Controls For All Metered Markets

Following a series of demographic and technological glitches, Nielsen Friday said it is finally ready to bring New Orleans back on its TV ratings grid. The city, which Nielsen downgraded to the nation's 54th from its 43rd largest media market following the devastating impact Hurricane Katrina had on its population, has emerged with new technological challenges that stymied Nielsen's engineers by generating a disproportionate amount of so-called "blue screen tuning" -- a situation that occurs when TV is left on after a connected device, such as a video game or DVD player, is turned off.

In an update distributed to clients on Friday, Nielsen said it has overcome both software and hardware problems that contributed to the blue screen tuning phenomenon and would begin introducing similar corrective measures in other television markets as part of new quality control procedures being adopted by the TV ratings firm.

Among other things, said it is appointing a "high-level, full-time quality executive" who will focus on process and quality control measures for its TV ratings meters.

Nielsen said it also has adopted a new policy of "pause and go," in which new versions of software will be introduced in stages into larger sample groups, "pausing to study the effect of the new software before moving on to all our samples."

Nielsen acknowledged that at least part of the problems associated with the high levels of blue screen tuning in New Orleans were related to its software, but said that it's been fixed and that the level has dropped from 12.3% to 7.6%, which is in the range of blue screen tuning in other Nielsen markets.

Nielsen said it would begin providing new metered ratings data to clients in the market on June 1 to evaluate it before it becomes officially used effective with the start of the July TV ratings sweep, which begins July 5.

New Orleans, meanwhile, appears to have emerged as a changed media market in many ways other than demographically. In addition to the population shifts that have occurred since Katrina, the media characteristics of the average household in New Orleans are strikingly different than the U.S. average.

"Households not only have more televisions than before, but also more devices," Nielsen informed its clients. "There are also more digital cable and ADS (alternative delivery systems, such as satellite TV) subscribers, but fewer wired cable subscribers."

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