The February 17, 2009 digital transition won’t be just a big deal for television stations, it will also be a big deal for Nielsen, which will be trying to track viewership as every analog full-power station in America shuts down and DTV takes over. The potential ratings impact has caused Nielsen to reschedule the February sweep to March next year.
Nielsen figures 9.4% of US television households are not capable of viewing DTV because all TV sets in the home are capable of receiving only analog over-the-air broadcasts. Another 6.6% of households have at least one TV set that is not ready for the switch to DTV.
As many of the DTV “unready” households in the Nielsen meter panels acquire digital receivers, converter boxes or switch to cable or satellite, Nielsen field reps will have to hook up meters to the new equipment. But the ratings company is also concerned about keeping its sample representative of the general population, so it is working to make sure that its field staff doesn’t provide panelists with information about DTV that’s not generally available to the public. After talks with the Media Rating Council, Nielsen and the MRC agreed that field reps can’t proactively raise the DTV transition topic with household members. Staffers will, however, have a leave-behind card directing people to the FCC’s website and 800-number if the DTV transition is raised by the panelists.
With such massive changes taking place in television next February, Nielsen says it has been having discussions with clients about whether local audience estimates for February 2009 will be accurate and whether the DTV change-over will cause anomalies in viewing patterns. As a result, Nielsen has decided to move the all-market sweep period from February 2009 to March 2009. Nielsen says it will continue to produce overnights in LPM and Set Meter markets. But the company says its plans may be adjusted over time as facts become clearer. “That includes, potentially, limiting the permissible uses of overnight data if Nielsen determines that the quality of the data does not meet the sample standards that we normally apply,” the company said in a detailed letter to clients.