NIELSEN EXPLORES SWITCH TO CONTINUOUS MEASUREMENT

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Nielsen Media Research will meet with clients in the next three to six months to discuss the volatile issue of continuous measurement in local markets, President John Dimling told Advertising Age.

"We've already had some informal discussions" with clients on the subject, noted William Jacobi, exec VP of Nielsen parent Dun & Bradstreet Corp.

The issue of continuous measurement is the Nielsen reform most wanted by ABC, CBS and NBC. It's also on the short list of priorities at many ad agencies.

The issue has emerged recently with the spate of contests run by local TV stations to try and manipulate ratings during sweeps periods (AA, Feb. 26).

"If Nielsen went to continuous measurement, it would hit a home run," said one network executive.

There are two major hurdles. One is cost, which Nielsen has said might be considerable.

"That's a canard," said another top network executive. "Let them tell us the cost and let us decide."

The other obstacle is that it's not in the interest of many stations to change the current sweep-measurement setup.

DIARY SIZE INCREASES

While Nielsen debates what to do about continuous measurement, it told clients recently it is increasing its diary sample by 10% for the May sweeps and 15% for the 1996-97 broadcast year.

In any markets where stations agree to a 2% to 3% surcharge, diary distribution will rise 50% next year. The moves are aimed at increasing the accuracy of local ratings reports.

"We welcome the move," said David Poltrack, exec VP-research and planning at CBS.

But Nick Schivone, NBC senior VP-research, said it "reminds me of that line from `Macbeth': `It's a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing."' To cut a sampling error in half, Nielsen would need to quadruple the sample size, so the diary increase is meaningless, he said.

NBC has asked Statistical Research Inc. to come up with an alternative to Nielsen; SRI has told NBC such a national rollout, if funded, is a year away.

AGENCY RESPONSE

Nielsen drew a varied response from agencies as well.

"It's a start toward improved measurement, and I applaud it," said Susan Nathan, senior VP-director of media research, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York.

But Sharron Lalik, director of local broadcast at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, said she was "not impressed. It's not a solution to Nielsen's problems."

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