Nielsen: It's a go
for the people meter
May 2002 rollout for tracking system in Boston
By Kevin Downey
Nielsen's long-disparaged system for tracking TV viewing in local markets, the paper diary and the household meter, is on its way out.
Nielsen announced yesterday that the test of its electronic People Meter in Boston has passed muster for accuracy and that the tracking service will switch over to the new system entirely in May 2002 for that market. By then the diaries and meters will be fully phased out.
The new system will then be rolled out in other major markets over the coming several years.
The adoption of the new system, which tracks TV viewership automatically, without relying on respondents to record their viewing, promises to revolutionize the television industry.
It will first put an end to sweep periods, in which results of diary and meter entries by local volunteer viewers are used to set local TV station ad rates.
Sweep samplings, completed quarterly, have long been criticized by media buyers as inaccurate and subject to distortion by promotional stunts by networks anxious to boost viewer numbers for their local affiliates.
More important, though, the new system, by more accurately tracking who is watching what shows and stations and when, also promises to benefit cable stations at the expense of the broadcast affiliates.
It will also provide advertisers a markedly different picture of who is really seeing their ads, and that picture will be delivered daily, as opposed to being based on data collected weeks or months earlier.
The new People Meter system has been in operation simultaneously with the old system since late April, in a demonstration meant to give local TV stations and media agencies a heads-up.
"In September we increased the sample to 600 homes, and weíre very pleased with what weíre seeing," says Karen Kratz, director of communications at Nielsen Media Research.
"The characteristics of our People Meter sample, meaning demographics like age breakdowns and homes with cable, far exceed our expectations."
The cooperation level, or the percentage of people who agreed to be part of the Nielsen sample, was 48 percent, compared to just over 41 percent for the household meter sample.
What Nielsen has also found is that the People Meter, as expected, is producing significantly different results from the household meter and diary system, with ratings for some demographic groups increasing dramatically. The number of teenagers watching TV, for example, went up over 30 percent.
At the same time the number of households found to be watching TV fell by about 9 percent.
In theory, such shifts could make TV less desirable than other media in Boston, while making Boston a less desirable market for some television advertisers.
But that is in theory. As media buyers point out, a lot of other factors will still come into play.
"Itís marketing data that decides whether we buy Boston," says Tony Jarvis, senior vice president and director of strategic insights at MediaCom.
"Even without a change in measurement, the cost-per-points can go up and down because of supply and demand.
"That doesnít stop us from buying Boston. Itís the brand, the brand development index, sales, share, and the category development index that determine if that market is on the list."
But while buyers may welcome the People Meter, there's still considerable trepidation about the switchover, and that is coming mostly from local stations, which realize that the more accurate results will benefit cable stations at their expense.
One of the major criticisms of the old system is that sample respondents are more likely to remember to record shows seen on major stations while forgetting to note shows seen on cable.
At the same time, the People Meter is expected to cost TV stations up to 50 percent more than the meter/diary system in place.
Perhaps not surprisingly then, none of the local TV stations in Boston have signed up yet for the People Meter. The only two clients so far are AT&T Broadband and New England Cable News.
But local stations will have little choice in the matter come May.
"Stations that havenít signed on will still be measured, but the information will be available only to those parties who are subscribing," says Nielsenís Kratz.
Media buyers and researchers, by contrast, are welcoming the new system.
"People donít fill in diaries well," says MediaComís Jarvis. "There is no question that people meters are a superior technology. In this new world, with the busy lives that the majority of people lead, youíve got to go to electronic measurement."
Perhaps the biggest benefit of the People Meter for advertisers is that media buyers will be able to precisely compare the audience reached by a TV schedule with the audience that they had intended to reach.
"The bottom-line for clients is that with the People Meter we can do a better job with real, worthwhile post-buys," he says. "Thatís part of the accountability process.
"In television, we are buying today based on an analysis of historical data from which we produce an estimate of what will happen in four, six, or 10 weeks. With a post-buy you compare your estimate to what really happened. Now we can do that with demographic data every day."
October 5, 2001
© 2001 Media Life
Downey is a staff writer for
-Kevin Downey is a staff writer for Media Life.