Nielsen Stumbles Over Network Metrics: Bad Omen For New Digital Measures?

Did millions of dollars go to small cable networks that didn't deserve it?

A glitch in the Nielsen system resulted in an over-reporting of ratings on smaller networks since October -- all thanks to the big TV researcher's miscalculation concerning household coverage of those networks on satellite distributors.

Will cable networks sue? Will advertiser sue those networks? Sounds like a big mess. Surely, the words "make goods" and "audience deficiency units" are being thrown around. But other words should be said: like, flawed research procedures.

Marketers and networks always have plenty to complain about when it comes to Nielsen. But older video and TV technology -- of which satellite distributors are included -- seems something basic Nielsen should have worked out a long time ago.

Giving some 20 small networks -- which Nielsen didn't name -- higher than normal coverage area, allows those networks to sell more viewers to advertisers.

Nielsen said: "Our field procedures, which require manual assessment of channels received, were not followed in all cases in DBS homes."

Manual assessment?  Definitely a problem of analog dimensions.

Nielsen also says it can't keep up with the many new networks on satellite distributors:  "Given the rapid growth and the increase in the number of packages and channels available, this process no longer provides the necessary level of reliability to accurately define household channel receivability."

That seems like a pretty basic task - so you have to wonder how well any media researcher accounts for the billions of Web sites, user activity, viewership numbers, and other audience data on the Internet. Are those sites being over-reported because of "rapid growth"?

No doubt, many research insiders would say it's an apples to oranges comparison. Still, basic stuff like this gets advertisers and media owners gnashing teeth, especially when they are quickly moving to increase new digital businesses -- which already have their own rising number of viewership/user questions.

By the way, Nielsen is involved in measuring those businesses as well.



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