Digital Transition Could Wreak Havoc On 2009 Feb. Sweep, Report Says

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The transition to all-digital broadcasting next year may cause “chaos” during the February sweeps period, an ad agency warned Friday, with some suggesting that the ratings-measurement period be postponed

In its weekly TV update, Carat noted that there are homes that aren’t ready for the digital transition, and they will lose their broadcast signals Feb. 17, 2009 if they don’t take steps to connect to digital-only signals.

“Nielsen is in a difficult position because it can not run the risk of compromising the integrity of its sample by informing these households of the upcoming digital transition,” Shari Ann Brill, Carat’s senior vice president and director of programming, wrote. “Nielsen must remain an impartial observer and a non-participant in the transition process.”

Carat expects the impact of the government-mandated transition to all digital—rather than analog—broadcast signals on national ratings to be slight. But the agency warned that local-market ratings could potentially be affected, depending on the market.

“Several of them might experience viewership declines until these ‘unready’ homes make the necessary upgrades in order for them to obtain digital reception,” Brill wrote.

Carat said that some are calling for the February sweeps period be moved out of that month and pushed back.

“The status of the upcoming February 2009 sweeps measurement is in question,” Brill wrote. “Some in the industry believe that the sweeps measurement period should be postponed because of the chaos that will reign during the days/weeks surrounding the transition.Carat believes otherwise."

"If there’s chaos and an interruption in viewership, all the more reason to have this recognized in the ratings," she continued. "We believe that sweeps measurement should proceed on schedule with perhaps Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 getting broken out separately.”

According to Nielsen, Carat said, there’s a concentration of homes not-ready for the digital transition among the Hispanic population, homes with older viewers and rural homes. The most “unready” markets are Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Houston and Albuquerque, N.M.

Carat cited Nielsen data that said 17.3% of Hispanic homes have only unready sets versus 12.4% for African Americans and 11.7% for Asian homes.

“In the worse-case scenario, some will wind up having their sets go dark on transition day,” Brill wrote.