Nielsen: partner in decisions

By 2012, David Tattle wants A.C. Nielsen to be considered the expert on broadcast information.Tattle, group vice-president, consumer-based services, Nielsen Marketing Research, says Nielsen 'can't just be publishers of ratings.'We need to assist each of our customers to use the information...

By 2012, David Tattle wants A.C. Nielsen to be considered the expert on broadcast information.

Tattle, group vice-president, consumer-based services, Nielsen Marketing Research, says Nielsen ‘can’t just be publishers of ratings.

‘We need to assist each of our customers to use the information provided to make better decisions,’ he says.

Nielsen started measuring local market television in 1950.

It still uses paper diaries to produce the Nielsen Broadcast Index (nbi), a viewership report that divides Canada into 42 separate Designated Market Areas (dmas).

Frequency of measurement varies market by market, with full coverage periods in November and March.

Diaries are sent out to the panel and returned by mail. The data then have to be cleaned up and interpreted.

Tattle says it is a slow process that usually has the November report being issued weeks later in mid-to-late December.

In contrast, the Network People Meter Service (nti) provides daily information 36 hours later.


The People Meter Service was launched in September 1989. Its panel sample of 1,500 households is representative of the country by geography, cable status, the presence of children under 18, age of household head and language.

Personal interviews with people meter panelists are used to gather information such as type of car driven, if there is a family pet, household income, the primary grocery shopper and ownership of goods such as microwaves and compact disc players.

Television viewing is indicated through the use of a remote control unit. The viewing records are stored in a microcomputer and transmitted over phone lines to Nielsen’s main computers in Markham, Ont., near Toronto, daily between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Subscribers to the service view the data for primetime programming daily via personal computer and also receive complete weekly printed reports.

Right now, Tattle says the company is producing ‘data by the pound’ and adds soon customers will run out of space to store it.

Nielsen Canada spends just under $1 million a year printing and sending out nbi and the weekly reports generated from the people meter.

The weekly network report alone runs about 414 pages. Each report breaks viewership down into age, sex and average minutes of viewing for each program.

Tattle says the reports could include other valuable data, such as income level and buying habits, but that would make them even more unwieldy.

A survey of its customers this past spring showed that the more pounds of data Nielsen generates, the less use they get from it, because ‘they really have to dig to get to the nuggets.’

Tattle would rather invest the money he spends on printing reports to provide television viewing information on computer disc, along with software that will enable each client to manipulate the data for its specific needs.

This type of system would also include the personal interview data that, when combined with tv viewing results, would give customers added insight to plan advertising campaigns.

Target audiences such as urban, high-income, computer owners could be easily isolated.

The speed with which people meter results are available allows programmers to make quick scheduling changes and marketers to alter ad campaigns.

Tattle says now is the time to concentrate on sifting out the nuggets.

The methodology used to gather information is secondary to the way it is served up. It is most important to provide new, relevant data summarized the way the customer can use it.

There are three ways the company is working towards its 2012 goal:

- enriching its databases through alliances with other companies

-joint ventures

-research and development by Nielsen International.

Last year, Nielsen entered into a joint venture with Compusearch Market and Social Research of Toronto.

The resulting Television Spending Index links television ratings and Compusearch’s lifestyle data with StatsCan information.

The index allows planners to look at consumer lifestyles neighborhood by neighborhood.

Another joint project with Compusearch, the measurement of cable television programming, is in the works and could be up and running by the end of the year.

Two reports will be generated.

The Cable Viewing Index will look at specialty channels such as local and real estate channels.

The Cable Metered Index will provide viewership by channel, using numbers gathered from people meter data.

Nielsen expects to strike an alliance within two months with an international software company that Tattle says will provide the software package necessary to customize viewing data to meet the needs of each client.

Research and development is handled by Nielsen International which spends millions of dollars every year refining data collection technology. The work is so costly, no one country could afford to take it on alone.

One recent development, Passive People Meters, could possibly be used in households within five years.

Passive meters require no conscious participation by the household panel members. There are no buttons to push. A pattern recognition system identifies the face of the viewer and stores it in the computer while also noting the viewing information.

The technology is now being used for competitive commercial monitoring, but the expense of the meters prohibits mass production at this time.

It is felt that more accurate data could be collected with passive meters because there is less likelihood of human error.

There are drawbacks to the system. Passive meters require a great deal of computer power and viewer recognition could be hampered by inadequate household lighting.

On the plus side, a passive system would be easy and inexpensive to add on to the existing people meter network.

Current data collection technology monitors channels by sound frequency. That is easy today because there is just one signal per channel.

Digital video compression, a system that will allow eight to 10 video signals on one channel in about five years will require new methods of channel recognition.

Nielsen is now looking at a new technique that encodes or stores program information on video signals. The coded information would in turn be read by the people meter.

Encoded video signals will also overcome another measurement problem, the proliferation of video sources such as satellite, cable, vcr, and over-the-air programming.

Encoded video signals will simplify data collection and also open the door for a shift from channel-based measurement to direct program and commercial recognition.

Nielsen expects to be ready with this technology in less than five years.

Tattle wants Nielsen to guide decision-making and not just be a manufacturer of data. The wheels are in motion.

He says by 2012, no one will ever think of A.C. Nielsen as just a tv ratings company.