Sunday, April 15, 2007

Nielsen to Get Off Sofa, Into Bars and Gyms

From the New York Times:

Beginning in September, Nielsen will release national ratings for television viewing outside the home in places like bars, hotels, gyms and offices, the company announced today. For decades, Nielsen has rated television viewing based only on what viewers in its panel watch while they are home. The moment those viewers traveled or went to the gym, however, any television they watched was not recorded.

For some types of television programs, the new ratings may provide a significant boost. Sports fans, for example, often watch games in restaurants or bars, and business people often watch the news in airports, their offices or at hotels.

Television networks like ESPN, CBS and CNN have complained for years that out-of-home viewing was not counted because they are generally paid by advertisers only for the viewers counted by Nielsen. The move by Nielsen is a step in the rating company’s larger plan to measure television viewing everywhere it occurs, whether on televisions, computers and mobile devices.

“Nielsen has a mandate to follow the video wherever it goes,” said Sara Erichson, executive vice president for client services at Nielsen Media Research North American, a unit of the Nielsen Company. “A lot of where video is going is outside the home.”

The ratings will be calculated using cellphone tracking devices that recognize programs by sounds. The cellphone will be provided free to 4,700 participants, who will be paid a small fee each month. The participants pay their own cellphone bills. Integrated Media Measurement has recruited 3,000 people who are in six cities — New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Denver and Houston — and Nielsen will recruit 1,700 others, aiming for them to be demographically representative.

Nielsen will sell the national ratings as an additional product to television networks and advertising agencies and deliver regular reports. Ratings will also be available for the six cities with the majority of the cellphone participants. Nielsen will share income from the out-of-home ratings with Integrated Media Measurement, a company based in San Mateo, Calif., that developed the phone technology. Eventually, Nielsen plans to integrate the out-of-home ratings with its standard at-home ratings.Network executives said the new ratings are an important step in following television consumption wherever it occurs. As much as 20 percent to 30 percent of people watching major sports events may view them away from their houses, said David Poltrack, the chief research officer of CBS Corporation.

CBS, Fox, NBC and other television networks have already been buying data from Integrated Media Measurement as they tried to track the viewership of their programs and their commercials. The company helps networks and movie studios determine whether their commercials or radio ads drive viewers to watch their shows or movies, said Tom Zito, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

Mr. Zito’s company will continue to offer its custom services to advertisers separate from its deal with Nielsen.

Television networks have tried to measure television viewing outside of the home on their own, and some networks have presented their findings to advertisers, hoping to persuade them to pay for those viewers.

But Nielsen will be the first neutral source that produces the ratings nationally on a regular basis, and advertisers might be more inclined to pay for out-of-home viewing when they can compare that viewing across all television programs.

“This is the first time there will be broad-based measuring of out-of-home viewing,” said Taddy Hall, chief strategy officer at the Advertising Research Foundation, a nonprofit group in New York that studies advertising. “Think of it as a streetlamp on a dark street. This just expands the area on which there’s some lighting.”

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