Nielsen Media Research, the findings of which largely determine how $16bn of local US TV advertising is spent, is finding itself being dragged into the digital age.
Today, US viewers have access to on-demand digital services, hundreds of cable channels and over a thousand broadcast TV channels. But Nielsen is now receiving flak from the industry from what is seen as an antiquated system for gathering research. The paper diaries sent out to homes across America are said to be designed for a time when viewing habits were different.
Under pressure from the cable and DTV players to provide better measures of TV audiences, the company has pledged to replace diaries in 10 major markets with electronic devices that can deliver far more accurate information minute-by-minute. The overhaul is getting a big push from Nielsen's Dutch parent, media giant VNU, which wants to keep profits high.
But TV networks are generally unhappy that the ratings system is being called into question. They're particularly irked that the electronic meters show scores for their shows falling while cable programs gain. News Corporation, which owns the Fox network and 35 local stations, has financed an aggressive public-relations campaign that accuses the ratings company, among other things, of undercounting minorities.
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