Key cable research officials generally praised — and agreed with — Nielsen Media Research's 43-page white paper last week on the decline of young male viewers in primetime.
In its report, the ratings service defended the accuracy of its methodology and data.
"Nielsen did a really good job and they did their due diligence to try to figure out what's going on," said Ira Sussman, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau's vice president of research. "Nielsen did a very good analysis … I don't see a smoking gun."
Nielsen's ratings have come under fire from the Big Four broadcast networks because viewing of men 18 to 34 in primetime has dropped significantly this season.
According to Nielsen's study, the largest season-to-date declines in men aged 18 to 34 have been suffered by broadcast, down 12%, and pay cable, down 24%. Ad-supported cable is up slightly in that demographic, by 0.8%.
The CAB did its own analysis of Nielsen data, and found that ad-supported cable is holding its own in the young-male demographic. For the first eight weeks of the new season in primetime, cable's delivery of men 18 to 24 edged up 0.2%, while its delivery of men 25 to 34 grew 2.4%.
In contrast, for the seven broadcast networks, men 18 to 24 were down 12.7%, and men 25 to 34 were down 10.7%, according to the CAB.
Last week, broadcasters expressed dissatisfaction with Nielsen's findings, noting that Nielsen concedes in the report that its methodological improvements account for about 40% of the 4.5-minute a night decline in primetime viewing by the young men. The ratings service has adjusted its national sample in an effort to make it more reflective of the U.S. population, which drew cable's praise.
"It's not that the sample has gotten worse," said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting System Inc. "The sample has gotten better."
In the report's executive summary, the ratings service said it had performed extensive tests and rechecked its data for young men, and remained "confident in the accuracy" of the numbers.
Noting that young-male viewership has been trending down for some time, Nielsen blamed the 7.7% decrease in primetime viewing among men 18 to 34 on a number of factors.
One major contributor: While young men are watching the same number of shows, they are doing so for shorter intervals.
"This is real," said Betsy Frank, MTV Networks' executive vice president of research and planning. "This is a trend that has been happening for some time … This is where it's all been heading. Young people are using TV in a completely different way than younger generations."
The bottom line is that young males "are leaving broadcast networks at a record pace," according to Wakshlag. Cable networks like TBS Superstation, Cartoon Network and MTVN's services have seen gains in that demographic.
Nielsen has also added more Hispanics to its national sample, but said "improved Hispanic representation has had a minimal impact on viewing: We estimate that effect to be approximately 4.6 seconds, or under 2% of the 4.5 minute decline."
Wakshlag said he was satisfied with the results of Nielsen's analysis, although he's not satisfied that it took three months for the analysis to be done.
"There's really no surprises here," Ray Giacopelli, Comedy Central's vice president of ad-sales research, said of the white paper. "What it really is is, 'Here's some of the data that just backs up what we're been saying and answers hopefully the majority of the questions people have.'… They've done due diligence."
But Tim Brooks, executive vice president of research for Lifetime Entertainment Services, remains skeptical and wary of Nielsen's findings.
"It's just the tip of the iceberg, frankly, because there's a lot going on at Nielsen," Brooks said, noting that the ratings service has a number of major changes in store for its sample next year. "Why are you rushing to make one major change on top of the other, when the first one isn't even working very well?"
Frank argued that if Nielsen's problems were systemic, "we would see it reflected across all television, and we're not."
When the broadcasters opted not to do reality shows this season, they helped turn off young-male viewers, Frank said.