New Nielsen Nos. Mixed Blessing For Stations

A first look at Nielsen’s new methodology that rolls out in June shows gains for broadcasters in some key dayparts — especially lower-rated stations — but even more lift for cable channels. Also for stations, there’s an increase in younger viewers; a huge decrease in zero quarter hours; and much more stability in ratings data from one day to the next.

Finally making good on a promise it made a decade ago, Nielsen will replace its long-reviled diaries in the 140 smallest markets next month with a new paperless system that draws viewing data from a variety of electronic sources.

And based on preliminary ratings from 51 markets from last November, the system should give a boost to the ad sales of TV stations, but an even bigger one to cable channels.

“Local broadcast has been suffering from a disadvantage, vis a vis national and digital media, for a long time,” says Stacey Schulman, Katz Media Group’s executive vice president of strategy and analytics.

The higher ratings and stability of the new Nielsen data could help turn that around, she says.

The new methodology brings together data from national People Meter panels (also known as Nielsen’s currency panels) and set-top box (STB) data derived from Dish Network, DirecTV and Charter subscribers. 

To provide accurate coverage of the growing over-the-air penetration, Nielsen also folds in viewing data from more than 15,000 meters. Installed near TV sets, the boxes identify what is being watched by listening to the audio.


According to Nielsen, the methodology will not only provide more accurate info, but local television will finally be getting ratings information all 12 months of the year, versus merely the traditional four sweep months of February, May, July and November.

Compared with November diary ratings, the new ratings show significant across-the-board increases in TV viewing.

The biggest increases occurred with younger viewers, cable channels and lower-rated broadcast outlets. Station sources note that certain dayparts -— including early and late fringe, along with daytime — are showing an upward trend.

Sports programming is also a beneficiary, and there were also increases in homes using TV and people using TV (HUTs and PUTs), according to Nielsen.

Nielsen analysis of total-day numbers shows how much more dramatically cable is benefiting from the new ratings than broadcasters.

Monday to Friday, TV stations experienced a 5% lift in the 25-54 age group and 9% among 18-49s.

In contrast, cable channels zoomed up 121% among people 25-54 and 129% among 18-49 viewers in the November weekday analysis.

On the weekends, the percentage gains were better for broadcasters and a little less dramatic for cable.

Nielsen shows that broadcasters received a 29% jump in ratings among the 25-54 crowd, and 32% among 18-49. Whereas cable channels were up 108% in the 25-54 demo, and 118% with 18-49.

“We are seeing that both higher- and lower-rated cable networks are increasing at a similar rate, making them more in line with what we see in LPM markets,” says Kelly Abcarian, SVP of product leadership at Nielsen. “The smallest, lowest-rated cable networks tend to increase at a slightly larger pace than the top 30 cable networks.

“However, it is important to note that while cable receives the largest percent increases in overall GRPs, in comparison to the top eight broadcast networks vs the top 30 cable networks, broadcast still makes up almost half of all GRPs.”

Will the numbers alter how agencies buy cable? Ed Gaffney, GroupM’s managing partner and director of implementation, doesn’t think so. “What it shows us is the underdelivery [of cable] in smaller markets is a lot less than people thought it was.”

The effect of the new ratings varied from market to market, says Katz’s Schulman. “Look at a market like Des Moines. In 25-54, we’re seeing a 238% increase in late news. We thought that 6% of the available audience was viewing in late fringe, and it’s more like 26%.”

Schulman reports other triple-digit increases for Des Moines TV stations as well: In daytime, broadcasters were up 157%, and in early fringe they were up 107%.

The lift among lower-rated stations, multicast channels and cable channels pretty much fall in line with what was expected by Kevin Stuart, Hearst TV’s vice president of research, based on what has been known about diary respondents’ tendency to overstate favorite or popular shows.

“We expected dominant stations to decline a little but remain dominate, and they did,” he says. “In competitive markets with a tight race, we expected it to remain tight, and it has. The biggest change is the zero-rated quarter hours.”

Stuart referred to a fact sheet from Nielsen on the new data that states that 99% of zero quarter hours went away among Big 4 broadcast network stations.

The new data also is much more stable than diary data. “I was looking at my ABC station in Omaha, for ABC World News. In the diary sample, it ranged from a 9 to a 19 rating on an individual-day basis, and now that range is between 9 and 12,” Stuart said.

“Same thing for Wheel of Fortune in Jackson, from a low point of 6 to a high of 18 [diary rating]. Now it’s between an 8 and 11.”

The elimination of such a dramatic bounce is welcome news to Justin Lewis as well.

“A lot of that variance is evened out,” said the Sinclair director of research. With the new data, “you can be more confident that if you do see changes, it’s a reflection of reality rather than methodology.”

Whether or not there are bugs in the new Nielsen methodology remains to be seen, says Katz’s Schulman. But regardless, it’s a huge shift for stations.

On the other hand, she says, stations will be scrambling to process a lot more data than they’re used to. “It may upset the applecart and throw things in disarray for a while.”

Out With the Old, In With The New

Demo Days Source Diary New System % Change
P25-54 M-F All Broadcast 6.6 7.0 +5%
P18-49 M-F All Broadcast 4.9 5.3 +9%
P25-54 M-F All Cable 5.2 11.5 +121%
P18-49 M-F All Cable 4.3 9.8 +129%
P25-54 Sa-Su All Broadcast 6.3 8.1 +29%
P18-49 Sa-Su All Broadcast 4.9 6.5 +32%
P25-54 Sa-Su All Cable 7.3 15.2 +108%
P18-49 Sa-Su All Cable 6.0 13.1 +118%

Source: Nielsen Nov. 2017, 51 markets, total day (M-F and Sa-Su 4AM-1AM).

Comments (58)

Leave a Reply

Insider says:

May 9, 2018 at 1:58 pm

No surprise. With bigger sample wobbles disappear, highest rated drop some and no shows, show up. Furthermore, as shown in the 2003 Arbitron/Nielsen PPM Test in Philadelphia, Cable Ratings exploded so TV Stations were dead set against the device/Ratings at the time. Of course, those panels/devices are now being used for these numbers.

catskills says:

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mrfixit says:

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Wow! the boxes identify what is being watched by listening to the audio??? OMG, can somebody explain that a little bit more… does the FCC know about this? Even if the Nielsen families agree to this – is that factor fully disclosed? sounds like a big bad idea. who thinks this stuff up??? Sounds like invasion of privacy to me, how does it exactly listen to the TV programs? what else is it listening to???

mrfixit says:

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oh, I forgot – Pai’s FCC doesn’t enforce anything

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