Initiative: Nix Feb '09 Sweeps Reporting

While some predict a doomsday scenario for next February's digital transition, a top researcher at Initiative believes the majority of Americans will take the necessary action to ensure that their TV service continues uninterrupted. Still, she believes--as others do--that Nielsen should refrain from reporting sweeps data next February, in order to avoid ratings skewed by the transition, which could then alter marketplace analysis for some time.

Nielsen has said if the transition happened today, some 10% of U.S. homes would lose all TV service. Those are homes with analog-only service. Many would need to purchase a converter box to avoid service interruptions next year (the government is offering vouchers).

Janice Finkel-Greene, director of futures and technology at Initiative, writes in a new report that while it is "open to speculation" how many homes will not be ready Feb. 18 (the actual transition date), "anecdotally, it appears that people will do whatever it takes to maintain access to their television programs."



Finkel-Greene writes that "the vast majority of viewers will be prepared for the transition--and TV on Feb. 18 will be no different from TV on Feb. 17."

The transition is "unlikely to affect national ratings"--which are derived from a large sample size, but could impact local ratings, which come from a smaller sample and are daily-generated data in many markets. She would prefer that Nielsen take a pass on sweeps ratings next February to avoid any incorrect data, which could leave misconceptions in the market.

In addition, she advocates that Nielsen hold off on reporting local ratings until it can get a handle on how many homes have lost and then restored service.

Ratings data could be particularly affected in markets with a large portion of homes that need to undergo an analog-to-digital conversion. For example, the Portland, Oregon market now has some 22% of homes unprepared, according to Nielsen.

Nonetheless, she writes, the "potential to wreak havoc on the advertising community (is) generally overstated. In fact, with some demographic analysis, geo-targeting and a bit of strategic planning, it is possible for advertisers to prepare for even the worst-case scenario."

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