TV station executives see an all-electronic system of integrated ratings for all forms of television viewing as critical to their future. Now they just want to know how Nielsen plans to provide it.
Broadcasters and media buyers are generally feeling good about Nielsen Media Research’s ambitious plan to “follow the video” in its next-generation ratings service. Broadcasters, in particular, see the potential of a system that will not only improve audience measurement of TV, but also of their video as it makes its way on to the Internet, cell phones and iPods. But questions abound, and final judgments await some answers.
What has stations excited is the promise of “Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement” (A2/M2)—out of the home and on multiple devices. If stations are going to exploit new platforms, they recognize the need for an accepted means of measuring usage and adding that usage to their traditional ratings.
“This is a way to get a better handle on the way people are viewing different forms of media and attach a value to it in the marketplace,” says Tony Marinaro, director of market research for LIN Television Corp.
Nielsen’s announcement last week was as far-reaching as anything ever attempted by the ratings company. The plan is to deliver an all-electronic system of measurement that will provide clients with integrated ratings for all forms of television viewing, irrespective of the platform.
Highlights of the plan include eliminating notoriously inaccurate paper diaries—even in the smallest markets—by 2011 and adding measurement of online streaming video, out-of-home viewing and video viewing on portable media devices to People Meter samples in incremental steps beginning with the testing of methodologies this year.
Not all broadcasters are keen about the switch from paper diaries to electronic people meters that tend to shave ratings from market leaders and disburse them among other outlets. But any losses may be offset by the gain that comes from facilitating the broadcast buy.
“One of the biggest advantages in people meter markets is that they become integrated with national data, allowing media buyers to drill down at will from national to local markets,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â says Bruce Goerlich, EVP, director of strategic resources for Zenith Optimedia. “It will make it easier to understand local markets and how they can work with them, and make it easier for money to flow back forth from the national and local level.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Fuzzy On the Details
The biggest questions surround how Nielsen will pull off plans to measure video viewed on PCs, away from home and on portable devices and how exactly the data will be integrated with traditional ratings.
Nielsen’s 62%-owned Nielsen/Net Ratings has already implemented tools like its SiteCensus analytics tool or its metered MegaPanel and NetView panelists to measure video streams on the desktop or cell phones, but television executives are unfamiliar with such methodologies.
“I need to know more about the Internet measurement, get a better grasp of how they’re going to fuse the data and find out more about Net Ratings methodologies,” says Pat Liguori, VP, research, ABC Owned Stations. “I think their plan is ambitious, but there’s a lot more I’d like to know about how it will work.”
Nielsen has been vague about how it will measure households in smaller markets. The company has proposed using battery-powered meters in markets between DMA 61 and DMA 125. The meters sample viewership for a month and then are mailed back to Nielsen.
Nielsen has floated several options for the remaining 85 markets, including mining set-top data or relying on a sample of hand-held “solo meters” it is developing to measure cell phone and MP3 player usage. But lower revenues in these smaller markets may make such solutions prohibitively expensive.
Speaking of expenses, the company has also been tight-lipped about how much the new services will cost. Billy McDowell, Raycom Media vice president of research, points out that Nielsen will end up saving money by cutting down on the incentives needed to get people to fill out diaries as well as the manpower needed to cull through the data.
But Zenith’s Goerlich is expecting fee increases. “I never underestimate Nielsen’s ability to charge a lot of money,” he says.
Then there’s the question of how quickly these tools will come into use. The company must balance the desire to rush to market with the need to get them right and placate the fears of everyone involved. Nielsen already has held dozens of meetings with industry groups and set up several committees to help vet the changes it is making. It is expected to seek approval from the watchdog Media Ratings Council (MRC) and the Internet Advertising Bureau before implementing them in the marketplace.
“It’s crucial to get client input, help from advisory groups and MRC accreditation on everything as they move forward,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â says Gary Corbitt, vice president, research director, Post-Newsweek Stations, who sits on several measurement boards including the MRC. “This is a huge sea change in measurement.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Roll with the Changes
The introduction of the new measurement systems and the planned phase out of paper diaries are likely to bring fundamental changes to the way networks and stations are run.
Although diaries aren’t set to be eliminated totally until 2011, sweeps periods will likely be phased out as soon as the top 25 markets are people metered (representing nearly 50% of local households)—in about three years, predicted one buyer.
This will mean monthly averages will rule over sweeps results, putting pressure on stations to stay sharp and promote heavily year round. Broadcast networks like Fox and NBC are already transitioning to year-round scheduling, due mostly to an increasingly competitive marketplace.
“A year-round system will be a good thing in the long run,” says Corbitt. “Clients are buying time 52 weeks a year and would rather have smooth data year round [as opposed to] the hyping and stunting that goes along with the book.”
The new measurement systems will also create an avalanche of work for research departments, which have steadily seen the amount of data they have to deal with rise with the advance of new platforms and technologies.
“Our ability to make sense of what we can do in terms of measurement of these new technologies hasn’t kept pace with behavior,” says ABC’s Liguori. “We went from seven books to 12, from one set to two sets, from live only to live only and live plus, from households to a number of demos. And research departments haven’t added staff. We are swamped, and no one is thinking about this.”
The biggest challenge for local stations brought about by A2/M2 measurement will be in being able to communicate a brand across several platforms, according to Raycom Media’s McDowell. Online, cell phone and iPod video have the potential to create an additive effect and build frequency and reach for the core product if marketed properly.
“We have to establish a strategy in the digital age where people understand the source of the programming they’re watching and keep coming back for more,” McDowell says.
The entire mission statement for the local broadcaster must be rewritten, and these advances will finally make it possible, Goerlich says.
“The old business model of selling local ads on TV is still viable, sure, but it’s weakening,ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â he says. “This will bring many more opportunities in the long run if local stations cease to see themselves as local broadcasters and see themselves instead as providers of geographically relative information and entertainment to those who live in their footprint.ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
AN A2/M2 TIMELINE
Streaming Video Measurement (in conjunction with Nielsen/Net Ratings)
Fusion of data with People Meter sample
TV/Internet Convergence Testing In Special Panel
Go Meter Panel Testing (audio-based, testing cell phones and MP3 players)
Mailable Meter Compliance Testing
Develop Software for Cell Phones and PCs
Passive Person Measurement Form Factor Testing (i.e., wearable tags)
Develop Solo Meters (to measure portable media devices)
Engagement Pilot Programs
400 Person iPod Panel Rollout (to track downloaded and watched programs)
Go Meter Testing In Special Panel
Passive Persons Measurement Field Testing (i.e., tags)
Mailable Field Testing
A/P 3.0 Field Testing
Extended Home-College Rollout (to measure what college students are watching)
Go Meter Field Testing
Local People Meter Expansion (DMAs 11-13)
Solo Meter Field Testing
Convergence: Internet Measurement Added to PM Samples
Go Meter Rollout
Local People Meter Expansion (DMAs 14-19)
Acitve/Passive 3.0 Rollout in Set Meter Markets (DMAs 26-60)
Introduction of Mailable Meters
Local People Meter Expansion DMAs 20-25)
Solo Meters Rollout
Out of Home Viewing Integrated into National and Local Samples
Source: Nielsen Media Research