Nielsen Launches Controversial 'Convergence' Panel, Tracks Both TV, Internet Usage

Following months of research, development and testing, Nielsen Co. Wednesday officially launched its so-called TV/Internet Convergence panel as a commercialized media research service. The panel is the first to measure the simultaneous use of television and online content within the same homes in a system that is tied to and directly comparable with the official currency of the TV advertising business.

The panel initially will measure the TV viewing and Internet usage of 2,800 people residing in 1,000 U.S. households. Nielsen will gather data on their TV viewing via its conventional people meter ratings devices, and will capture their Internet usage, including streaming video, as well as Web page navigation, via Nielsen Online's Internet measurement software.

The data will be released to Nielsen clients via monthly Excel reports, beginning with May 2008 report. Clients will also have access to custom analyses tailored to their specific networks, programs and Web sites, and the data will be available in Nielsen's NPOWER software beginning in December.



The system is not without its controversy. Some highly respected media researchers have expressed concerns that a convergence panel might be asking people to provide too much personal information on their media usage, and that people opting in and staying with the panel might not be as representative of the total population as people who opt-in to either of Nielsen's standalone TV or online measurement services. Among the initial concerns was how TV ratings households might feel about having Nielsen - and its clients - linking their TV viewing patterns to Web navigation, especially on sites and content that might seem private, or at the very least personally sensitive.

"Consumers generally recognize that the information on their computers, particularly financial data, is more personal than what they watch on TV," Nielsen said in a June 2007 communication that first explained the convergence plan to clients.

In October 2007, Nielsen announced a deal with ESPN to become its first client to utilize a variety of "cross-platform" databases, including the TV/Internet Convergence panel, to generate research, insights and advertising pitches based on how people consume ESPN content on TV and the Internet.

At the time, Nielsen said the new convergence panel would be built from a sample of new households that was being recruited to test the impact of Internet measurement on compliance with Nielsen's pre-existing people meter TV ratings system, as well as from panelists retiring from Nielsen's national and local people meter services.

In Wednesday's announcement, Nielsen did not indicate how the new, commercialized convergence panel was derived and/or how that might impact its traditional TV ratings and online audience measurement panels.

Among the new insights Nielsen said it plans to report from the new panel are:

* Time spent by consumers on television and Internet on a daily basis.
* Simultaneous usage of television and Internet.
* The relationship between viewing content on television, streaming content, and surfing the Internet.
* Cause and effect - how usage of one media drives usage of the other.

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