Now that Nielsen Media Research has finally given the go
ahead to testing local "People Meters" in Boston, the No. 6 DMA, some industry
sources wondered whether that new measurement approach will get beyond the test phase.
MediaOne Group Inc. vice president of ad sales Ed Dunbar
said, "As a company, we've been very receptive all along to the effort to
improve measurement of TV audiences and, specifically, our [cable] audiences. We believe
it'll provide a more accurate view of our viewership."
That's particularly important in a multiple-channel
world, he added, pointing out that the current Nielsen methodologies were "developed
for a very different viewing environment."
Dunbar said he looked forward to cable gains under the new
local People Meters, adding, "I'm very bullish on our performance in this
So is Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau vice president of
research Jonathan Sims, who has been among the harshest critics of what he called
Nielsen's "inherently flawed" methodologies, namely set-tuning meters and
Calling the researcher's move "a landmark
announcement" that will deliver "the best cable demographics ever," Sims
said, "It's been a long time coming, but better late than never. We applaud the
But TN Media Inc. senior vice president and executive
director of local broadcast Howard Nass said last week that cable's anticipated
audience gains could well work against the proposed rollout of the local People Meters.
"Our concern is this: I'm a TV station. If the
ratings in Boston don't go up, why would I want to subscribe to this? It's
likely that the [broadcast] ratings won't go up, so it'll be interesting to see
if it'll be accepted by the stations. And Nielsen is in business to make money."
Since Nass and Sims expected Nielsen to charge more for the
new methodology, Nass said this would be another reason for broadcasters to balk --
especially if ad sales in 2001 don't measure up to this year's bullish
Sims said he's been told that Nielsen will roll out
the first "couple of hundred" local People Meters in Boston by summertime, with
600 due in consumers' homes by 2001. That count -- 200 more than today -- will
include 100 existing households from Nielsen's national sample, he added.
Nielsen intends to "use the local and national People
Meter services synergistically," Sims said, "in order to plump up its national
and local samples." Its national People Meters now are in 5,000 homes.
People Meters register viewing by each member in the sample
households, while set-tuning meters provide household ratings. During the periodic
"sweeps" periods, consumers are asked to fill out a diary for one week. Those
samples are then merged to produce sweeps reports, including demographic breakdowns, which
are used by local broadcasters and cable operators to set ad rates.
In late 1998, CAB president Joseph Ostrow complained that
Nielsen's diary methodology had translated into "millions of viewers and, as a
result, millions of [advertising] dollars that we're missing." At forums since
then, Sims has cited Nielsen's own side-by-side comparisons of People Meter and diary
data as showing that the new meters picked up considerably more cable viewing than the
But the diary system will remain in place in Boston for a
year to give Nielsen customers "parallel reports for comparison purposes, so they can
see which way the wind is blowing," as Sims put it.
Thus, Nass said, talk about an eventual end to sweeps
periods is premature. Elimination of sweeps would be "down the road," he added,
even if the rollout were to go smoothly.
Nielsen has announced that nine additional markets, which
it did not name, could also get local People Meters "over the next three years,
depending on customer support."
In explaining the researcher's move, Nielsen president
John Dimling said in a prepared statement, "Today's fragmented, highly
competitive media environment -- compounded by the emergence of digital television -- is
creating a demand for faster, more accurate delivery of year-round local demographic
After Boston -- which Nielsen called "a demonstration
market" -- Sims speculated that the next nine markets "will all be top-10
markets or close to it -- that's where the money is." Still, subsequent rollouts
beyond Boston "will not be around the corner," Nass cautioned.