Nielsen Still Bullish On Code Reader Ratings

Despite the decision to postpone the roll out of the controversial new diary replacement system for local TV until Jan. 1, Nielsen's Matt O'Grady tells the TVB crowd it is the way to go. “I know there are plenty of questions about this remodel. However, I also know that remodeling is the future for us to assign demos to big-data sets. I know we can get it right.”

Nielsen’s top local-ratings executive expressed confidence Thursday in the company’s new code-reader measurement system – including the controversial component that derives demographic data from distant markets. The new system is now in the test stages and due to begin replacing paper diaries in 44 markets on Jan. 1.

The executive – Matt O’Grady, EVP and managing director of local media for Nielsen – specifically addressed the new system’s “viewer-assignment” methodology, under which demographic data is to be “modeled” from people-meter households in larger markets to generate probable demographic profiles for the households in the smaller markets where diaries long provided the makeup of the sample households.

So many questions – as well as objections voiced by local broadcasters – have arisen over the last few months during ongoing testing of the code readers and viewer-assignment test data that Nielsen earlier this month postponed its planned launch of the new system from Oct. 1 to the beginning of next year.

While O’Grady did not directly address the postponement in his remarks – which he made during a session on local TV measurement at the TVB Forward conference in New York – he acknowledged broadcasters’ concerns about the new methodology. The subject came up when the session’s moderator – George Ivie, CEO of the Media Rating Council – asked O’Grady if the new system would “help local TV stations in terms of stability and ratings performance.”

“I know it will,” O’Grady said. “The diary has reached its shelf life and sample sizes [for the new system of passive code readers] have increased over the past 14 months by 13,000 households.”

“I know there are plenty of questions about this remodel,” he said of the viewer-assignment scheme. “However, I also know that remodeling is the future for us to assign demos to big-data sets. I know we can get it right.”


“The data already shows more points in the markets,” O’Grady said. “In the code reader markets, HUTs are way up and there’s more PUTs because we can assign a demo to everybody in the house, so I do believe it will work. And we’ll be able to deliver the data every month where we hadn’t been doing that before. I think it’s going to give [local] advertisers a lot more confidence because there will be more stability.”

In the weeks and months leading up to the postponement of the code reader launch, broadcasters expressed skepticism that demographic profiles of households in the Nielsen samples in their markets could be accurately derived from other locations where lifestyles might be very different. Nielsen postponed the launch in order to have more time to better explain the new methodology and, more to the point, make converts out of the skeptics.

Nielsen is awaiting a decision – expected to come down some time in the next few weeks – on accreditation of the new system from the MRC. This wasn’t mentioned either during the TVB measurement session, even though the head of the council was presiding over the session as moderator.

While O’Grady’s comments about the new measurement system took center stage at the TVB ratings session, attendees also heard from three other panelists, including Bill Livek, vice chairman and CEO of Rentrak; Joan Fitzgerald, VP, TV sales and business development for comScore; and Malcolm Casselle, SVP and general manager of digital media for SeaChange International.


Read all of TVNewsCheck’s TVB Forward coverage here.

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Rachel Martin says:

September 18, 2015 at 9:44 am

1. Unlike the diary model, that switches Nielsen measured households weekly, the code reader keeps the same household for up to 5-years. Switching out homes each year by an estimated 20%. Imagine…a bad week 2 during sweeps for your local late-news. Hopefully the other 3-weeks will balance that out because each week was a different set of homes. But that bad week-2 could be your data set of code reader homes for the next 36-months. Fair? No!
2. Demo assignment makes sense for Network Prime programming, but sports, local morning news, 5p/6p news…etc. One local affiliate “zany/fun” morning show may attract a much younger audience than a traditional news heavy morning show. But if the same networks time-periods are being compared for demo assignment, the true diversity of one audience may be lost as compared to the collective.
3. Nielsen code reader placement of 400 (avg) homes is a far cry from the number of diaries used previously. While Rentrak does not measure demo’s, 100,000+ measured homes versus 400 code readers would cause pause for any statistical mathematician.
4. HUT levels are up…true. 200%-400% increases in viewership in dayparts is troublesome. What have all of us been paying for? If diaries are so wrong then I would like to be first in-line for my rebate. I know Nielsen, “diary data is passive…” weren’t those Nielsen meetings fun.
5. Ethnicity doesn’t matter to Nielsen demo assignment. All people in a certain age group watch the same programs regardless of race/religion etc.????
Get it fixed.
A. Increase the number of code readers.
B. Don’t simply dump them in low income households because they are more receptive.

Kenneth Kinder says:

September 18, 2015 at 11:17 am

I run a couple of stations in a diary market. I just got off of the phone with an agency over under delivery. The agency recognizes the flaws in the antiquated Nielsen diary methodology, but “that’s all we have”. No it’s not! Rentrak, while it has its issues, is a passive system that is far more accurate than asking someone to fill in a diary every fifteen minutes while they are watching TV. Nielsen keeps trying to come up with new twists to try and salvage methodology from the 60’s. The simple solution is for clients to force their agencies for more accurate accountability on their advertising investments – otherwise, we just keep feeding the dinosaur.

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