Nielsen Fast-Forwards PVR Ratings Plans, Unveils 'TiVo' Ratings Service

Acknowledging the profound impact digital video recorders are having on TV viewing patterns, Nielsen Media Research Wednesday unveiled plans for a new standalone ratings service based exclusively on the DVR activity of TiVo households. But the new monthly research service will do more than just report how TV programs are viewed in TiVo households. It will also be a laboratory for marketers, agencies and the media to learn how viewing behavior is altered by DVR capabilities such as pausing and replaying live TV, as well as playing back and skipping through recorded programming. While the service will have no immediate impact on Nielsen's primary TV ratings service, executives expect information from the TiVo panel may help the industry determine new "editing" rules for crediting viewing to programs and advertising in a DVR environment.

"When we talk to our clients, the first question they ask is, 'When will see some data on time-shifting?' This will be the first wave of data showing what happens when people record and play back programming using a TiVo," says Jack Loftus, executive vice president-communications at Nielsen. He says Nielsen has not resolved how it might apply that knowledge to its primary TV ratings reports. Until that is resolved, Nielsen will continue to omit DVR households from its regular TV ratings samples. Nielsen estimates DVRs, including non-TiVo branded services, currently represent about 3 percent of TV households.



The new service, a joint-venture with TiVo that will be marketed by Nielsen, follows an extensive research and development deal between the two companies that led to a breakthrough in TV metering software that enables Nielsen to integrate TiVo viewing data into Nielsen's ratings system. Initial versions of the new TiVo reports will measure only programming, but Loftus says Nielsen eventually plans to report on viewing, recording, playback, replaying, pausing and skipping of TV commercials in that panel. While DVRs are assumed to be a net negative for TV advertising, some observers believe they may also contribute to incremental reach and frequency of TV ads from viewers who record, pause and replay ad messages, as many DVR homes did during and following the Super Bowl.

The DVR data could be critical for a new generation of media planning approaches that focuses not just the reach and frequency of advertising exposures, but also on their context: when, where, how, and perhaps most importantly, in what mindset consumers are exposed to ads.

"The first step right now will be program content. We hope to get to commercial avoidance data later," says Loftus. "the point is to be able to process this information and report it to the industry in such a way that they can understand what's going on in DVR households."

Nielsen did not set a specific launch date for the new service, and is still determining exactly how many panelists are needed. The panel will be recruited using a special "opt-in" recruitment process among standalone TiVo subscribers. Nielsen executives continue to talk to other DVR developers, especially cable TV operators, as part of a broader goal of developing a massive data processing system built around an array of digital TV set-top devices, all of which generate granular, "clickstream"-like data on TV viewing patterns. Madison Avenue, via an Advertising Research Foundation initiative, has been rebuffed in its attempts to convince cable operators to participate in such a system.

Nielsen has designs on becoming the central data processor for all forms of data on TV viewing patterns, whether it is from its own organic TV ratings samples, or through other new and emerging technologies.

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