On Measurement, Local Linear Still Lags Behind Digital
The struggle to accurately measure local linear television continues, with major measurement providers such as Nielsen and Comscore working to figure out how best to provide TV stations with accurate information on who is watching their over-the-air TV signals in local markets. Meanwhile, TV stations’ digital and streaming products are able to take advantage of all the data and analytics that digital offers at a very granular level.
The issue remains marrying linear with digital to provide a complete measurement picture to both buyers and sellers, said panelists at TVNewsCheck’s TV2025 conference at the NAB Show New York last week.
“We’re at an inflection point,” said Justin Lewis, corporate research director, Sinclair. “We’re to the point where the stresses on the current systems are really, really, really starting to show and everybody involved is starting to adapt and adjust what they offer.”
A big part of the problem remains the challenges with Nielsen’s local panel, which has grown increasingly inaccurate as audiences have fragmented.
“If you’ve got 400, 600, 800, 900 households in the panel, and all of a sudden, you’ve got to make that be 40% to 50% broadband-only homes, that means the people who are traditional viewers in the panel are making up less and less of the sample size,” Lewis said.
“When you talk about 40,000 to 41,000 homes in the panel and then you break that down to a local market where you have only 400 homes in that panel, how do you then start to divide? As you get deeper and deeper [into demographics and personalization], you end up with only one or two homes in the local sample,” said Hanna Gryncwajg, Nexstar’s VP, measurement innovation.
The two major local measurement providers, Nielsen and Comscore, are both working on solving the local panel problem, as are other vendors — and that’s a good thing, Gryncwajg said.
“I think there’s a huge benefit to competition because it raises awareness that there is a problem, a severe problem, in measuring local,” she said. “And now because of the awareness, the vendors are starting to work to solve for some of these issues. And one of those is panel size, and whether there’s any statistical stability in the data.”
While measurement is far easier on the digital side where buyers and sellers can rely on ACR and set-top data, the challenges with linear measurement still represent a problem that station executives across the board want to see fixed.
“The value of what we do at a local level is changing dramatically,” said Michael Page, SVP, digital sales, Fox Television Stations. “Yes, we’re seeing declines in overall viewership on the linear side. But how can we add that to the mix of what we are seeing on the streaming digital side? I still think the power of local television is in news and sports. There’s a tremendous amount of value there. How can we put the two pieces together to understand total incremental reach in that market?”
The struggle is less one of technology and more one of communication, diplomacy and agreement, the panelists said.
“Let’s not go to perfection. Let’s go to much better,” said Gryncwajg. “The technology exists already to holistically measure your linear and your digital [and] be able to stitch it together. I think that part of it is getting agreement between the buy side and the sell side on what is better, so that we can transact on that today, as opposed to waiting for some miracle to happen where a company comes together, and they can measure across all 210 DMAs with scale to census.”
Part of that conversation needs to be getting everyone to see the total picture instead of just their own platform of interest.
“There’s a digital and a streaming division, and there are linear buyers,” Lewis said. “They all speak different languages. When we’re talking, we prefer the buyer that’s kind of straddling both streaming and linear because they get the picture the best. They understand the differences in currency are the challenges, while the digital folks put stuff into a black box and the pure linear buyers tend to just completely want to depend on what they’ve known forever. Almost every large agency has different ways to look at the convergence of the two areas.”
In fact, that consensus between agency buyers and TV station sellers is the change the panelists would most like to see happen in the next year.
Page said: “[I’d like to see] the buy side truly letting linear buyers and digital buyers come together into a group [that looks like] the streaming buyers, because [those buyers] get the power of big-screen video along with some of the granularity and targeting. To me, the struggle of the larger agencies is that they still want to stay siloed into one or the other.”
“As our CEO has said more than once, linear still keeps the lights on,” Lewis said. “But it’s important that that gets done right. I’m eager to see where Nielsen’s big data initiative goes with Nielsen locally. I’d like to see an increase in that effective size locally. Because right now in some markets, the number of viewing options far exceeds the number of people on the panel, which is a disastrous place to be. If that effective panel size does go up, and passes our data scientists’ sniff test, that would be a good place to be a year from now.”
Read more coverage of TV2025 here.