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Behind The Data Is Nielsen Ready For The Digital Transition
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Behind The Data Is Nielsen Ready For The Digital Transition

With the nationwide transition to digital TV in the U.S. little more than one month away, 6.8% of U.S. households remain unready for the switch to all-digital broadcasting, according to Nielsen.

Nielsen Wire recently spoke with Patricia McDonough, SVP of Insights, Analysis and Policy, Nielsen, about the company’s efforts to accurately measure TV viewing following the February 17 digital transition.

Nielsen Wire: What is Nielsen doing to prepare for the transition to digital TV broadcasting?

Patricia McDonough:

We are planning for a busy post-holiday season in which we expect many unprepared households to purchase new equipment.  Our field staff will be ready to visit these homes and make necessary connections to our meters.   We plan to have our field staff strategically located near our unprepared sample homes to be able to quickly respond to changes to equipment and service.

Nielsen’s dedicated digital transition team is examining every aspect of our television audience measurement process to prepare for the February 17 transition.  The team has coordinated efforts across the company from establishing new guidelines for our field staff to deal appropriately with questions from sample households, to providing clients with assistance understanding what will be necessary to ensure proper audience crediting.

We are also working with our clients to finalize the details of how we will deal with the days immediately following the transition, when some disruption may occur. That includes developing rules to deal with sample home viewing changes caused by the introduction of new equipment needed to make homes digitally ready.

The bottom line is that Nielsen is not in the business of predicting what the ratings will be; our primary responsibility is to report what is being viewed on television.  To that end, we do believe we are well prepared to provide audience estimates that will provide a realistic view of how people are watching television before, during, and after the switch to all-digital transmission.

Nielsen Wire: How will the transition to digital broadcasting affect Nielsen’s TV ratings?

Patricia McDonough:

To some extent, that remains to be seen.  Nielsen’s extensive preparations for the digital transition make us well positioned to measure and report viewing after February 17.  In the best case scenario, every household that is currently unprepared will take steps necessary and there will be no interruption.  In reality, that is unlikely — though Nielsen expects the majority of households to be ready.

Nielsen Wire: Will homes without digital converters still be counted as part of Nielsen’s TV panel?

Patricia McDonough:

Nielsen has always had rules for how long we can keep a sample home if they no longer have television.  We are reviewing those rules and are discussing with clients how they should be applied during the transition to digital TV.

If a sample home is no longer able to receive signals following the transition, one of the key factors affecting whether or not they stay in Nielsen’s panel will be their plans.  If a sample household advises Nielsen that they will make arrangement to become a working TV home again, we will work with them.  But if that home tells us they have decided to do nothing, they will likely be replaced.

Nielsen Wire: Which stations are affected by the transition: broadcast, cable, PBS?

Patricia McDonough:

The potential changes associated with the digital transition affect all players.  For broadcasters, it is vital that those households that rely solely on over-the-air signals make appropriate preparations.  By definition, these homes currently do all of their TV viewing via broadcast television.  If they purchase a new TV set or a digital converter box, broadcasters can maintain that advantage of being their sole provider of television information and entertainment.  If a household chooses to connect to cable, satellite, telco video offerings, or another source that would open new opportunities for viewing cable networks that were previously unavailable to that household.  As such, there are potential upsides and downsides for broadcast and cable networks alike.

Nielsen Wire: Are there other continuing challenges related to the digital transition that Nielsen will be tackling in the next year?

Patricia McDonough:

The media landscaping is continuously evolving — as such, there are always new challenges in measuring and reporting media consumption.  Nielsen’s job is to anticipate these and develop tools to accurately track consumers’ media habits.

One of the most important current trends is the use of Internet and mobile devices to watch television.  Nielsen’s clients need to know how all of these screens contribute to their total audience, and we working hard to integrate our resources to provide those answers.

As the digital transition approaches, stay tuned on Nielsen Wire for information and preparedness updates.

More at the FCC’s DTV.gov website.