Talkback: Nielsen Effort No Guessing Game


To the editor:

We need to correct a few errors in your June 15 cover story entitled “Thinking Inside the Box.”

The story describes Nielsen’s methodology as “an antiquated polling process that tries to guess the opinions of a nation of millions of TV viewers based on the imperfect diaries of less than 20,000 homes.” Nielsen does not try to “guess” the “opinions” of national TV viewers using diaries. We attach state of the art electronic meters to every television in sample homes and measure actual behavior. Our sample of 18,000 randomly selected households, mirrors the actual population as a whole and is more representative of viewing patterns than any set top box sample, no matter how large, because set top box users do not represent the entire television universe. Though 1 million homes from Manhattan would be much larger than Nielsen’s panel, it would not represent Americans’ TV viewing.

Multichannel News reports that 37% of prime viewing [according to an estimate by ad agency Starcom USA] is going to Nielsen-unrated networks. That is grossly out of proportion to reality. In fact, less than 10% of viewing comes from unrated sources such as local and federal government access channels, shopping networks, low-power stations, viewing from Canada and Mexico and other unrated cable and broadcast networks. Nielsen already measures 90% of the viewing that occurs in the U.S. Set-top-box data can give us insight into the remaining 10%, but it can’t provide more complete ratings for the vast majority of viewing.

Nielsen believes that set-top measurement is an excellent complement to panel research, but that it is impossible to have accurate ratings without first creating representative panels. We have invested heavily in our set-top-box measurement service and are working closely with cable companies and other clients to develop metrics that will provide insight into commercial performance, provide more granular measurement for small networks, and develop new analytic tools for advertisers and agencies. Our ultimate goal is to combine the benefits of both panel- and census-based measurement to offer both accuracy and more granularity in our services.

Manish Bhatia, President, Advanced Television Service, The Nielsen Co.