Nielsen, the leader in providing audience measurement for radio and television, is in the process of implementing some pretty big changes in the way they gather and report local television ratings. These changes are happening across all markets, large and small, and should significantly improve the data that local television stations and agencies will have at their disposal. Up until 2018, Nielsen employed a variety of measurement methodologies in the 210 TV DMAs. The larger markets or top 70 markets were using electronic measurement via either LPM data, Set Meters or Code Readers while the other 140 markets were still using a passive form of measurement via the Paper Diary.

The first and most significant change Nielsen is making is the official retirement of the Paper Diary effective sometime in 2Q 2018. The Diary, which relied on panel members to remember what they had viewed and record it in paper format, was a pretty antiquated measurement method for the bottom 140 markets. Additionally, the data was only available four times a year (November, February, May and July), which created an issue when projecting ratings or receiving actual ratings for programming that ran outside of those months (i.e. March Madness). Nielsen is now implementing local electronic in-market panels in 7,000 new homes, in addition to incorporating the National People Meter sample in the data pool for these markets. There are many benefits from these changes including: markets having monthly data available, the data will now provide a more complete view of the TV landscape, and will likely be more accurate due to the passive nature of the measurement.

Another major change Nielsen is employing to enhance their local TV ratings is the incorporation of their Portable People Meter tool (PPM tool) audio panelists into the measurement methodology of 44 TV DMAs. The PPM tool is currently being used to provide local radio ratings in the top 48 radio metros. The PPM is a device a panelist wears in order to pick up inaudible broadcast signals that are emitted from radio stations. These devices track the panelists’ listening habits and then the data is sent back to Nielsen to be compiled. Effective 2Q 2018, those devices will also be picking up television signals. The incorporation of the PPM sample will double the panel size in these markets, capture in and out of home TV viewing and increase stability by lessening the number of networks that show no ratings or reported zeros. Many smaller cable networks will likely reap the benefits of this improvement since often times those networks show no ratings at all when in reality, viewers are most likely tuning in.

Finally, another important enhancement to the measurement of local TV ratings is the incorporation of set top box data from cable providers such as Comcast, Charter Spectrum, AT&T/DirecTV and Dish. At first, the return path data will be incorporated into the ratings data in all markets but the top 25. The delay with the LPM markets is due to the fact that these markets still rely heavily on the daily overnight ratings and since Nielsen needs to receive the set top box data and then process it, they can’t turn that data around quickly enough to include it in the daily overnights. However, the inclusion of this data is a huge step in allowing Nielsen to deliver a more comprehensive picture of local television viewership. [1]

To summarize, beginning in 2Q both stations and agencies will begin receiving more comprehensive, more accurate and more timely data due to the changes implemented by Nielsen. The changes Nielsen is making are a necessary step in the right direction after years of pressure from the advertising industry and competitors to provide a more modern approach to measuring local television viewership. MSM looks forward to using the more accurate measurement for our clients and for even more enhancements coming down the road.