Nielsen shakes off big-media, bucks DVRs, online video

Nielsen household? Some say the ratings company inadequately accounts for DVR use and online video watching.

An alert poster over at Slashdot gives a heads-up to a battle brewing between TV rating company Nielsen and a powerful consortium of media companies and advertisers over Nielsen's perceived foot-dragging on incorporating new media in ratings information.

At the heart of the dispute is so-called "three-screen" tracking – measurement of how people consume TV, PC, and mobile video. Nielsen measures US audiences with a network of 18,000 homes with special remote controls that record TV viewing habits, but doesn't currently factor online viewing into its ratings. The new consortium would award contracts to companies that can effectively measure viewership across multiple platforms.

A Financial Times article from last week broke news of the alliance, which includes NBC Universal, Time Warner, News Corp, Viacom, CBS, Discovery and Walt Disney, and top advertisers Procter & Gamble, AT&T, and Unilever.

For its part, Nielsen appears unconcerned – and a little confused – at the competition. On Tuesday, it said it had invested more than $1 billion in three-screen tracking. But after its annual review, Nielsen declined to adjust its survey sample to better account for households with PCs and Web access. But Nielsen CEO-Vice Chairman Susan Whiting insists that the company is committed staying with the times. "Much of what was reported by the Financial Times remains unclear, and many of our clients are themselves looking for answers to questions raised by the story," she told MediaPost. "What is clear, however, is that three screen measurement is at the center of our strategy."

Missing from that strategy, and confirmed by Nielsen Tuesday, is an accounting for DVRs and HDTVs. The company also decided not to give more weight to households with either of the technologies.

What's all of that mean? To some, it means they feel their demographic is underrepresented. One Slashdot commenter put it this way (edited for language):

Okay, I can understand them not weighing us DVR watchers as much as grandma watching her stories on live TV (since we're a lot less likely to actually watch the ads that the Nielsens are all about). But to only count us under a few conditions is to ignore the reality that we're in the 21st century (some of us are even watching *gasp* HD content, which Nielsen is also still undervaluing).
I'm tired of seeing [bad] network shows that my great-aunt watches in the top ten and the shows *I* like getting [canceled] for "low ratings."


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