LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Nielsen Media Research is making major changes to its national and local TV measurement services to improve how it collects demographic information of TV viewership.
Nielsen will launch a local people meter service, currently being test marketed in Boston since last year, into 10 markets in the next three years.
The local meters are the same remote-control devices used by Nielsen for its national service. Viewers push buttons on the device to identify themselves by gender and demographic breakdown when entering a room to watch TV. This demographic information is currently being complied through handwritten diaries, which critics say are more prone to human error.
The demographic information, as well as specific program information, is then relayed from set-top boxes overnight from each Nielsen household -- specifically asked by the company to be part of its panel -- to Nielsen's central office.
Next-day data access
The local people meters give next-day access of crucial demographic information to media buyers and sellers. Right now, local advertising media execs only get this information four times a year, during the so-called sweep periods -- February, May, July and November.
In future years, experts predict this could change the way TV is programmed. Now networks schedule high-profile programming during these sweep periods to raise ratings levels for their affiliate stations.
"It will have a huge impact in the way TV is bought and sold as well as for programming decisions," said Jack Loftus, vice president of communications for Nielsen Media Research.
After Boston, Los Angeles by early 2004 will be the next market to get people meters. Chicago, New York and San Francisco will follow in that same year. In 2005, Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Dallas-Ft. Worth come on line. Atlanta will have local people meters the following year.
30% of all TV households
The top 10 TV markets include nearly 32 million TV households, or 30% of all U.S. TV households. Nielsen said more than $8 billion is spent just on local TV advertising in those markets.
Separately, Nielsen also said it will double its national TV sample size of approximately 5,000 households to nearly 10,000 households by 2006. This is partly from the expansion of the local people meter service in the top 10 markets.
Nielsen said it will include these homes, on a weighted basis, into the national sample.