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Going Paperless: Nielsen Measurement Expands Automated Data Collection

August 29th, 2017   ||    by John R. Osborn

Nielsen measurement took a giant leap forward this May. The company announced it will install nearly 15,000 TV audience meters in 7,000 homes covering the 140 markets currently using paper diaries. Nielsen confirmed the meters are code readers installed in 50–100 homes per market, with each home having two or three code readers on average. The meters will both complement and supplement Nielsen’s collection of data through set-top boxes (STBs) in those markets. The company expects to retire the TV paper diaries by mid-2018.

The move brings efficiency and speed to the audience-reporting process, overcoming the challenge of transcribing written information into digital databases. It also strengthens the quality of audience data by digitally recording viewing behavior rather than relying on the bias- and error-prone process of self-reporting. “The meters will also serve to validate set-top-box data by serving as the truth-set that is used to compare against and deliver actual persons-level viewing,” according to Nielsen.

Nielsen Measurement Measures Up

Perhaps the best news for local TV buyers and sellers is that until now paper diaries have been supplemented electronically in smaller markets by Nielsen’s Return Path Data, which measures information directly from STBs. But STBs do not exist in non-cable/satellite homes—and these homes will now have electronic reporting.

Nielsen states that more than 25 percent of recent viewing of broadcast stations in the 140 markets measured by diaries came from over-the-air tuning. And broadcast viewing is increasing as cord-cutters and cord-nevers buy HDTV antennae to receive local and national broadcast news, entertainment, and sports in tandem with personalized bundles of streaming video-on-demand (SVOD) services.

As Broadcasting & Cable reported in April 2017, “Broadcast only homes rose 12 percent to 14.7 million from 13.1 million a year ago.” Even an article in the Wall Street Journal declared this month: “Millennials Unearth an Amazing Hack to Get Free TV: the Antenna.” Clearly, local broadcast and cable TV deserve the most comprehensive and reliable media research methods possible across TV distribution platforms—in all markets. Thanks to technology, measurement is now making significant progress toward this ideal.

SVOD also got more attractive this month—AdvertisingAge reports Disney and ESPN are launching a new streaming service in early 2018. As SVOD grows, expect HDTV-antenna-distributed local TV homes and viewing to grow as well.

Measuring the Future

What does this mean for the future of local TV buying and selling?

  • Audience targeting is now based on more reliable digital data for more accurate buying decisions in those 140 markets. There will also be less of a difference in measurement quality between larger and smaller markets. Agency buyer responsibilities, after all, often include a mix of large and small markets.
  • Nielsen can now be trusted to better track over-the-air viewing and its growth across all markets as millennials and cord-cutters purchase HD antennae.
  • Because the data will be recorded digitally across all TV markets, it will be much more accessible and easily moved.
  • This audience data can be incorporated into automated buying technologies, bringing better decision-making tools to buyers and sellers.
  • This is the beginning of a new source of third-party data for future programmatic TV buying/selling, where exchange platforms and data management platforms can transact addressable buys.

The only downside could be if this hybrid, transitional use of audience meters, paper, and STBs in smaller markets stalls and digital audience measurement of local TV viewing is postponed. Hopefully, Nielsen’s measurement competition with comScore will keep both companies moving forward—and quickly—with these improvements.

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