Nielsen: A Total Focus On Local TV Measurement



By Adam R Jacobson

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. — With a focus on unscripted programming and “viral video” shows permeating NATPE 2017, which wrapped up Thursday (1/19) at the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc resorts in this idyllic surfside setting, who knew that Eva Longoria would express what was on the minds of at least more than one conference attendee.

In an interview with the conference’s daily news magazine published Jan. 19, Longoria said that U.S. broadcast networks are falling behind their cable brethren due to a dearth of innovation. The one-time Desperate Housewives star now oversees production entity UnbeliEVAble Entertainment and told NATPE Daily, “I feel like television is the Wild Wild West again, because of streaming, digital platforms and social media. The way you make, market and distribute it is more different that it has ever been.”

Consider the consumer’s point of view.

With Roku and Over-The-Top (OTT) delivery systems now drawing viewers, and luring them from basic and premium pay-TV and broadcast networks, there’s a plethora of choice and diverse programming to be had.

But, how can all of this consumption, via so many different types of platforms, be accurately measured?

The Nielsen Company‘s Local Television practice has been working hard to ensure all of these platforms get counted, and integrated into a metric that is meaningful for marketers, advertisers, and television industry’s C-Suite.

kelly-abcarianKelly Abcarian, SVP/Product Leadership and Managment for Nielsen, is a 12-year company veteran who previously worked at Siebel Systems.

She’s well aware of audience fragmentation, and the many ways consumers are enjoying visual entertainment — and will likely do so in the coming years.

“Who knows where the next three to five years will bring us?” Abcarian wonders.

Consumer adoption of Virtual Reality — a hot topic at NATPE 2017 — is growing, she says. At the same time, “Availability, and access to content is evolving,” she says. “Everyone needs to understand the best way to know where the consumer ends up. The question is how to balance where consumers might head.”

This means Nielsen’s Local TV unit is working diligently to delivering ad buyers a full and complete picture of what’s being watched — whether it is done via an over-the-air station, by way of DBS providers, or through cable television and traditional MVPDs.

Working alongside Abcarian on bringing total Local TV metrics to fruition is Jeff Wender, Nielsen’s Dallas-based SVP/Managing Director of Local Television.

jeff-wender“We are making sure that we have comprehensive measurement,” Wender says. “This will be inclusive of all out-of-home viewing, from bars to airports. It is a matter of minutes, and margins, and out-of-home measurement will greatly impact local television.”

On Sunday (1/15), Wender was in attendance at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex., for the NFL playoff match between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers. He notes, “There was a questionable weather event, so I grabbed my smartphone and went to to see the weather. There was a possible tornado.”

This viewership of TEGNA Media‘s ABC-affiliated WFAA-8 will get measured by Nielsen, just like that of NBC‘s KXAS-5 in Dallas, which is accessible via the app as it is an O&O.

How? Abcarian explains, “There is an Nielsen SDK.” This means that there is a code in a smartphone app, or web browser, that allows for tracking of what’s accessed and for how long. Wender showed how, in the disclosure agreement for downloads of the DirecTV app on iOs devices, language clearly states that Nielsen’s SDK is embedded in the most recent version of the app.

“This allows us to move to a more Census-based approach to capturing the audience on a digital landscape,” Abcarian says.

This is a major advancement not only for out-of-home viewing, but also for individuals that may watch certain local programming via a Roku app. TEGNA’s KGW-8, the NBC affiliate in Portland, Ore., offers full streaming of its local newscasts through Roku — commercials included. Meanwhile, the NewsON app delivers live and on-demand streaming of local TV newscasts from a host of broadcast stations, including WABC-7 in New York and Raycom‘s KGMB/KHNL’s Hawaii News Now from Honolulu.

Tracking viewer use of these apps, and adding it to a total metric, is part of Nielsen’s investment in technology to incorporate Big Data, Wender says.

This includes bringing in additional tools for “increased stability” — such as the Portable People Meter (PPM).

The PPM has been used by Nielsen Audio and, prior to that, Arbitron, for several years. It’s not perfect.

With Media Rating Council accreditation in just 26 of the 48 Nielsen Audio PPM markets and the ratings watchdog refusing to accredit the December 2016 Nielsen Audio PPM service reports for those markets in which the PPM service is currently accredited, some radio broadcasters are less than satisfied with the data being provided by Nielsen. The decision to withhold accreditation results from a connectivity issue during the first week of November, to a new audio data collection site, that resulted in some 8% of all installed PPMs losing connectivity, becoming inactive.

Meanwhile, questions surrounding the accuracy of PPM-based Nielsen Audio ratings for Los Angeles were resolved in August 2016. The affirmation of Nielsen data came as “the investigation determined that an isolated personnel issue caused several households to be improperly brought online between January and July 2016.”

Are these issues clouding the implementation of PPM-based Local TV ratings?

“Accreditation is important to us,” Abcarian says. “But there is a level of trust that advertisers continue to put into this data. And, in markets where there is no MRC accreditation, they transact just as well as they have in accredited markets. We will continue to work with the MRC.”

Wender and Abcarian stand by the quality and accuracy of Nielsen’s Local TV ratings.

“We don’t release numbers unless we believe in the quality of the results,” Abcarian says. “We stand behind that data today.”

Then, there are the Coverage Area Universe Estimates, which came under extreme scrutiny from ESPN and another unnamed TV client last fall.

On Nov. 4, after an exhaustive internal investigation by dozens of Nielsen staffers that began nearly a week earlier, Nielsen affirmed that its November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimates were accurate as originally released.

“We take the accuracy of our data very seriously and determined the magnitude of change merited a thorough review of our processes to be certain that these estimates were produced correctly,” Nielsen said.

ESPN, the Walt Disney Co.-owned sports and entertainment network most affected by the new “UEs,” was less than satisfied with Nielsen’s conclusions.

In a statement in response to Nielsen’s findings, ESPN said, “This most recent snapshot from Nielsen is a historic anomaly for the industry and inconsistent with much more moderated trends observed by other respected third party analysts. It also does not measure DMVPDs and other new distributors and we hope to work with Nielsen to capture this growing market in future reports.”

November UEs showed ESPN losing 621,000 homes, ESPN2 shedding 607,000 homes and ESPNU minus 674,000 homes, sports journalist Ken Fang reported at

At the end of the day, controversy over UEs may not matter in the grand scheme of things, as capturing viewers in a 360-degree manner is where Nielsen wishes to be.

Competitors including comScore‘s “TV Essentials” may ultimately prove to be a strong challenge to Nielsen. But, Abcarian and Wender don’t feel threatened.

“We welcome competition at the end of the day,” Wender says confidently.

With Live+7 data and C7 data already available, the ultimate decision will be up to media buyers and planners, CMOs and brand managers to work with Madison Avenue in determining the best metric for their buys.

Abcarian and Wender, without question, say Nielsen is the gold standard for delivering the biggest ROI to the advertiser.