Set Top Box Data - the First Analysis

This most recent article that I wrote for MediaPost in May 2009 came on the heels of a Nielsen data glitch where Nielsen was unable to deliver viewing data to their customers for about three consecutive days. The industry was in an uproar and I thought it would be helpful to demonstrate how set top box data can be used to bridge any data lapses in the future:

The Current And New Television Data Currency
Charlene Weisler, May 15, 2009

Although it happens occasionally, when a giant stumbles, he causes the ground to shake for all. So when Nielsen Media Research has problems with processing its audience data, the entire media industry is put on hold… and shakes.

This is a crucial time of year for the broadcast and cable networks. Not only are they embarking on the next upfront sales season, many networks are considering the fate of their original series for possible renewal or cancellation. Without the Nielsen ratings currency, no one feels comfortable making any important program-related decisions.

This is not the first time nor will it be the last, we expect, for this company to experience server and delivery problems. In fact, Nielsen’s track record is fairly good, compared to other consumer and B to B companies. But because Nielsen is the dominant player when it comes to television currency, any blip in data delivery, processing or collection is potentially catastrophic to its clients.

For the common good, the current currency must expand beyond Nielsen and it is up to the industry – broadcast, cable, advertisers, agencies, satcasters, telcos etc – to decide and agree on the expansion of data providers, processors and metrics.

Currently there are many streams of new set top box based viewership data available from various DMAs and footprints. There is nothing, at this time, totally replicating Nielsen’s national footprint but collectively, all this set top box data can be nationalized to form a fairly good national footprint in the future.

There are companies out there such as TNS, TRA, Rentrak, TIVO and the Telcos, all of whom have data. A company like TNS with Direct View data has an extensive footprint that spans a range of markets with the potential to be nationalized. TNS has graciously provided me with performance data for comparison purposes to Nielsen – for days where there was no Nielsen data problem and the days where Nielsen had to reprocess their data.

While there is a very strong correlation between the TNS Direct View and Nielsen ratings (+0.96) for the days examined, the two services will report different levels due to underlying differences in sample compositions and the fact that Direct TV homes have many more available channels than the average Nielsen home. With that in mind, we compared Direct View set top box data ratings to Nielsen Live ratings as a percentage of gross rating points based on household primetime performance for the five broadcast networks for April 27, 28, 29 and May 4, 5, 6, 2009 – three days of delayed data vs week ago.

TNS Live/ Nielsen Live/ Gross Difference
Monday, April 27, 2009
ABC 30%* 34% -4
CBS 30% 26% +4
CW 4% 5% -1
FOX 21% 21% 0
NBC 16% 14% +2

Tuesday, April 28, 2009
ABC 23% 18% +5
CBS 29% 32% -3
CW 4% 4% 0
FOX 24% 25% -1
NBC 20% 21% -1

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
ABC 15% 17% -2
CBS 28% 28% 0
CW 5% 6% -1
FOX 34% 31% +3
NBC 19% 18% +1

Monday, May 4, 2009
ABC 31% 37% -6
CBS 29% 25% +4
CW 4% 4% 0
FOX 20% 19% +1
NBC 15% 14% +1

Tuesday, May 5, 2009
ABC 23% 18% +5
CBS 29% 32% -3
CW 4% 4% 0
FOX 24% 25% -1
NBC 20% 20% 0

Wednesday, May 6, 2009
ABC 14% 15% -1
CBS 28% 29% -1
CW 5% 6% -1
FOX 35% 32% +3
NBC 18% 17% +1

Source: Nielsen, NTI Galaxy, as dated. Live
TNS, as dated, Second by second ratings projected to DIRECT TV’s digital residential household universe
*To be read: According to TNS, ABC received 30% of the total 5 Broadcast network primetime household gross rating points on Monday, April 27, 2009 .

Despite the sample differences, the two services report similar share of grps by broadcast network indicating that set top box data can help yield similar competitive standing results to the current currency. This is an encouraging first step in helping to establish a relationship between set top box data and the current currency. Obviously much more research is needed in this area.
But should future data delivery problems occur, we are not without resources. In this case, Direct View percentages could be applied against an established (and agreed upon) gross rating point universe to get a sense of the possible ratings level. Or, a grp share metric might be established to be used in lieu of ratings to glean performance.

Charlene Weisler is a research veteran and media strategist.

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