Fine Throws Down Gauntlet Over Ratings

The trade group’s chairman, Bill Fine, says the TV broadcasters have put up with inaccurate numbers and unchanging sample sizes for too long. “We have hit a tipping point, a point where it is clear a major change is necessary. I know you have heard that from others many times before, but I’m serious. It is time for a reset.”

TVB Chairman Bill Fine today called on his fellow broadcasters to demand better audience measurement, saying TVB is doing its bit by determining the minimum acceptable audience sample.

“We have hit a tipping point, a point where it is clear a major change is necessary,” he said at the TVB Forward conference in New York. “I know you have heard that from others many times before, but I’m serious.”

Fine’s target was clearly Nielsen, the well-established, but oft-maligned purveyor of TV ratings. It dominants the business, but is fending off an upstart rival, Rentrak.

“Why has the LPM same size stayed the same for 12 years in Boston and other major markets?” asked Fine, who is general manager of Hearst Television’s WCVB Boston. “Why are hashtags and zero cells acceptable? Why don’t we, as an industry, demand better outcomes and develop a plan to actually achieve them?”

Fine presented slides that showed that the sample size for the Nielsen Local People Meter service in Boston is stuck at the same number (600 homes) as it was in 2002 when the service was launched. “How can that be?” he asked.

Fine said that it is not TVB’s job to say which of the two rival services — Nielsen and Rentrak — is best. But what the trade group can do, and is doing, is determining adequate sample sizes and margins of error.


“A quality sample is imperative; the sample size must dramatically increase; and the margin of error should be cut to — minimally —under 10%, and preferably less than 5%.,” he said, noting that TVB would share its findings with the Media Rating Council. (Note: The original posting incorrectly said TVB would share its findings with the Council for Research Excellence.)

“The goal is accurate measurement, which is valid, reliable and effective. Although not an easy task, it is something, I believe, everyone in the room can agree is absolutely necessary. It is time for a reset.

“Consider this TVB’s verbal RFP to Nielsen, Rentrak or anyone else who wants local television’s measurement business in the future.”

Read other stories from the TVB Forward conference here.

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Patrick Burns says:

September 9, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Bill is dead right, Nielsen needs to go deep on the electronic records & get down to top 75 mkts. If not Rentrak will eat their lunch and Media Audit will have the desert.

Viewership is very volatile & rolls like a ocean as people message & twitter as a show starts, this makes all ratings suspect if the base is thin.

Cheers for Bill stepping up !!

Michelle Underwood says:

September 9, 2014 at 4:53 pm

BRAVO BILL! Weren’t LPM’s supposed to eliminate zero cells? Or so they said when they were ramming it down the industry’s throats. They even had a major agency Media Director carrying the water for back them, only to be SURPRISINGLY hired at Nielsen months later. Remember that Jon?

nina sclavinski says:

September 10, 2014 at 9:52 am

Oh so well. In my naïveté , I foolishly believed they did want to change (I do think the real Nielsen people like Susan genuinely wanted to make it better). But when the new management declared themselves “honest and open” it was a giveaway that they weren’t. I left when I realized they truthfully did not want to change and implement the ideas that I and others had and merely wanted me to be a mouthpiece to paper over their issues to the industry. It is unfortunate for the industry that they didn’t change but good in the sense that the industry is now attempting to do better measurement. Whether Nielsen’s market position continues to quash competition is yet to be seen, but it is exciting that perhaps there is a chance for better from others.

nina sclavinski says:

September 10, 2014 at 10:08 am

To add to my comment above, and my last career move was running a company that used data from Fourth Wall, Rentrak, directly from clients on product purchases to build a platform that showed exactly how much TV drove client sales and exactly how much TV drove sales from demand gathering media such as search. It got rid of the need to use Nielsen data and provided clients with the knowledge of the power of TV for their bottom line. The industry can do it and have not only better data but prove its worth with the other data folks out there. That is why I am such a fan of Rentrak even though they didn’t buy my company ;-).