NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Nielsen Media Research has released its highly anticipated "white paper," a study of the drop in male viewers, following weeks of criticism from networks and advertisers who faulted Nielsen methodology for the decline.
The 43-page white paper does not correct or
"Men 18-34 are watching substantially less primetime television this year as compared to last," the report reads.
Nielsen remains firm that these men, a crucial and coveted advertiser target, are watching substantially less prime-time TV this year compared with last. These men, Nielsen says, are tuning into the same number of programs -- or "viewing events" -- but they are tuning out of them more rapidly than ever before. The declines are greatest for pay cable (such as HBO and Showtime) and the ad-supported broadcast networks, while ad-supported cable showed gains in male viewership.
Network executives have been most troubled by the numbers, which ultimately translate into revenue from advertising based on the size of the audience.
"We looked at the same people," said Jack Loftus, communications director at Nielsen. "The same 18-34's who were in the sample last year, and we tracked their viewing habits this year, and it's less. That's a pretty big thing to overcome."
Nielsen continues to attribute this decline to the growing use of video games and DVDs. It also cites gains in personal video recorder penetration, which are not measured by Nielsen. Mr. Loftus said Nielsen can track VCR or DVD usage in TVs that are hooked up to people meters.
"We don't know what they are watching," he said, "but we know they are in a play mode."
Nielsen's white paper also claims that the new company practice of increasing the number of Hispanic males in their sampling has had little impact on the drop in viewers, accounting for just 4.6 seconds, or less than 2% of the 4.5-minute decline in males. Also, Nielsen's new weighting system, which is designed to improve sample representation, has had little impact -- 0.75 minutes out of the 4.5-minute decline.
"As of November 16," the report read, "the season to date men 18-34 usage for total day is 14.7%. This represents a falloff of 5.8% from the prior year. Men 18-34 primetime usage is 29.8%, which is 7.7% below the prior year."
Critics find the findings unfounded.
'Only a handful'
"Check out the numbers, there are only a handful of missing men," said Andrew Green, managing partner and director of communication insights at Omnicom Group's OMD, New York. According to Nielsen, the 18-34 sample counted 1,500 men, of whom only 1,200 were counted as "in-tab," or in the reporting sample, while only 600 men were in the 18-24 headcount (500 in-tab). The average 9% decline in men 18-24 recorded from summer 2003 to this October means, according to Mr. Green, "that five fewer sample members were reported as watching television at any given point in time than were reporting at the same time last year. "
"It such a small number," Mr. Green said. "And they are supposed to represent millions of young male viewers in this country. It's complete nonsense. ... It is the system that is nonsense, not this particular result. A system which generates headlines galore and billions of dollars of panic from five people changing their behavior."
Mr. Loftus concedes this: "We're looking at 4.5 minutes, and among the very light users it could be a small number that is not watching television that is accounting for a lot of this, but we don't know it exactly. That's why we're increasing the sample."
Nielsen earlier announced that it would roll out people meters in nine major markets by 2006, doubling their current total sample size to 10,000 users.
The digital realm
Critics also point out that in the fragmented media universe -- cable, digital cable, satellite, PVRs -- younger viewers are turning to digital cable and satellite.
"Nielsen is behind the times on technology," said Gale Metzger, senior consultant at Knowledge Networks/SRI in Cranford, N.J., and co-founder of Statistical Research Inc. "They said in 1995 that the A/P meter was going to be up in a couple of months, and that hasn't happened. Right now they have to just pass by homes that have the new technology, the digital boxes, PVRs and video on demand."
Mr. Loftus said Nielsen has completed a test of A/P and will roll it out this summer.
"But we will only be rolling it out in those homes where we need it. If a home in our sample doesn't have digital television receivers, there's no need for it." Mr. Loftus said the number of A/P metered homes could be anything from "a handful to more, and as digital usage grows, we'll install the meters."
CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that Nielsen does not measure digital cable and satellite viewing. Nielsen does measure both viewing modes.