Monday, April 4, 2016

Boxing up the data

If you read this blog at all, you know that I post weekly ratings reports. The numbers all come from the Nielsen Company, which has long had a stranglehold on measuring TV audiences.

Nielsen is getting some competition lately, though. Rentrak and comScore merged a little while ago. The combined company is using set-top box data to crank out TV ratings, especially in smaller local markets where Nielsen's sample is tiny and skittish. Set-top box data, a.k.a. STB data, comes from that box which feeds the cable signal to your TV set.

Now Nielsen itself has made a deal to buy a load of STB data from Dish Network. Nielsen will first use the info for their local ratings, though sooner or later they may work the data into their national numbers. As a Nielsen analyst pointed out years ago, there are real issues about how complete and accurate STB data is. But Nielsen will always have its 40,000-household national sample to fine-tune the ratings.

All this may seem like a steaming pile of techie mumbo-jumbo. But STB data could affect ratings for a lot of TV shows, particularly those on minor cable networks that don't show up big in Nielsen's current sample. In general the use of the data would seem to favor cable vs. broadcast, because by definition only cable households produce STB numbers. I don't expect wild swings in Nielsen's numbers, but there could be an impact over time.

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