At the same time Nielsen said the number of digital-video-recorder homes it tracks will be tiny initially - just 60 households next month -- but it expects numbers to grow more meaningful as it adds 100 a month through July when the sample is due to accurately represent the 7% estimate of households with DVRs.
Nielsen said that as part of the effort it will begin offering TV ratings in three forms -- ratings without time shifting, ratings for show that include same-day time shifting and ratings for shows that include time shifting within a week of air date.
Company officials said they could have offered two of the three last summer, but delayed rolling out the DVR national ratings because of requests that it include same-day time shifting along with the other two ratings. Nielsen has been offering time-shifting numbers in some local markets since April.
The DVR ratings come amid some major questions about the true impact of time shifting and about how often viewers use time shifting to skip ads.
While the number of DVRs has grown, some DVRs are built into new satellite receivers and cable boxes and their usage, after an initial free trial, costs extra and isn't publicly tracked. Most of the published data about DVRs refer to homes with the equipment, not whether the DVRs are actively used. Even in homes where DVRs are used, there is little quantitative information -- but a lot of speculation -- on whether viewers use them to skip ads.
Nielsen officials said today that clients will have access to minute-by-minute viewership of the DVRs, which could provide information on whether ads are being watched, but conceded that even when the sample is fully operational, any such information based on any individual show's viewership is likely to be based on very small numbers.
Ann Elliott, Nielsen VP-communications, said trends may be possible to spot by looking more broadly at DVR viewership than at individual shows.
"People can begin to see how people are watching the DVRs before the numbers are increasing the rating. It will give an increasingly valuable view," she said, adding that the numbers will become more significant as DVR usage increases.
The new DVR numbers are part of a series of initiatives Nielsen is taking. Next July Nielsen will also begin tracking video on demand viewership.