Calling TV's Superfans: Nielsen Starts Tracking Networks' Viewer Loyalty

USA Network Tops Among Entertainment Cable Channels in Preliminary Study

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Nielsen is set to introduce a standardized measurement for viewer loyalty across broadcast and cable networks.

A reunion episode of 'Vanderpump Rules' on Bravo
A reunion episode of 'Vanderpump Rules' on Bravo

The company has measured the loyalty of viewers to networks and shows in the past, but up until now has lacked a way to standardize the metrics across networks. The new measurement follows a study commissioned by Bravo to assess the loyalty of its audience and how it ranks against other cable networks. Perhaps more importantly for advertisers, the study suggested a correlation between viewer loyalty and consumer purchases.

"This allows us to characterize networks and programs based on the quality of the audience, not just quantity," said Jerome Samson, VP-research, Nielsen. "Just because there are a lot of people watching it doesn't mean there's a lot of loyalty."

The Nielsen study for Bravo examined 18-to-49-year olds' viewing habits during the first quarter of 2013 across 75 cable entertainment networks (meaning the big broadcasters and cable powers such as ESPN and Fox News were excluded from the study at Bravo's request). Within the entertainment genre, Nielsen found that USA Network ranked first for viewer loyalty, followed by Bravo at No. 2, Discovery at No. 3, History at No. 4 and TBS at No. 5.

Nielsen ranked loyalty based on the percentage of viewers who tuned into a network 10 or more times during the quarter. That proportion was 18.9% for USA, 18.4% for Bravo, 17.9% for Discovery, 17.3% for History and 17.1% for TBS. The figure across the 75 networks studied was 7.2%.

The loyalty standings differ from rankings for ratings. TBS, for example, looks likely to have finished the year at No. 1 in terms of prime-time ratings among 18-to-49 year olds.

"This is not a replacement for ratings, but a compliment to better assess the quality of the environment," said David Kaplan, VP-research, Bravo. "Those viewers who come back time and time again have a different mindset. They are more engaged and have a deeper connection."

Nielsen also matched TV viewing data for 18 cable networks with purchasing data from Nielsen Catalina Solutions and Nielsen Buyer Insights for four consumer packaged goods and retail campaigns airing from the fourth quarter of 2012 through the first quarter of 2013. It also fused data with consumer spending data for 74 categories from GfK MRI.

The results suggested that advertising on "high loyal" networks generates a higher sales lift, and that loyal viewers in general have the propensity to consume more.

"High loyal networks attract the heaviest consumer spenders from the start, and then these consumers respond more favorably to advertising seen on these networks as sales lift is boosted to a substantially greater degree," according to the study.

Nielsen's loyalty research going forward is still in development and will not exactly mirror the Bravo-commissioned study. For example, it will include broadcast networks and cable networks beyond the entertainment genre. According to Nielsen, the loyalty-research product will be available later in the first quarter.

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