Originally formed by the US Congress to review and accredit the Nielsen Company’s ratings service, the Media Rating Council (MRC) needs to evolve on TV ratings or lose its relevance.
For the longest time, the MRC has stipulated that TV ratings have to be measured from either census or random samples. This stipulation is the root of Nielsen’s TV ratings problems.
Big picture: affordable random samples are not large enough to successfully report ratings of advanced targets and / or low viewing programs. This became apparent three decades ago, and the evolving use of first cable box feeds and later ACR feeds from smart TVs too has now grown into robust competitive TV ratings sources and services from not only Comscore, but now iSpot, VideoAmp, Samba, and Inscape among others. In all these new cases (originally innovated by Comscore), competitors are weighting collections of native measurements from cable box and smart TV feeds to project local and national TV ratings.
These very large samples of native measurements allow for easy reporting of advanced targets and / or low viewing programs.
During this period of evolution, Nielsen has stuck to its knitting of reporting from random samples. Even when Nielsen incorporates native measurements from cable boxes or smart TVs, they only include them as direct measurements for those households and do not leverage them to project those viewing patterns to local or national TV ratings. Consequently, Nielsen’s very large native measurements enhance but do not solve their reporting challenges yet.
Shortly after leaving Nielsen many years ago, I started to publicly advise investors that Nielsen’s coveted random samples for measuring TV Ratings would devolve into a calibrating panel to be applied to native measurements. If you are interested in more on this, please read “Into the Weeds of TV Currencies”.
I wonder if Nielsen will finally make this pivot away from the MRC stipulations (of reporting either census or random samples only) to the lower cost solution of using small invasive measurement panels like their random samples to calibrate much larger native measurements to compete with the new generation of competitors.
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Mark Green is co-founder of MediaBrain Inc.