TiVo fast-forwards the TV ratings industry


U.S. marketers spend about $70 billion annually on television advertising. What happens if the data guiding those investments was wrong?

TiVo, the little gadget that helps you record television programming, is poised to give Nielsen serious competition in how video audiences are measured — and perhaps to fill some gaps. Nielsen, as you know, compiles ratings for television programming that explain what percent — or share — of the 114 million TV sets in the United States are tuned to any program. Trouble is, Nielsen bases such ratings on a sample of 25,000 U.S. households. While Nielsen does process more than 2 million paper diaries in its four “sweeps” heavy observation periods, in general only 0.02% of the entire U.S. television audience is actually measured — and 99.9% is not.

TiVo will shake that up by releasing directly observed data on 375,000 households: second-by-second viewing from TiVo’s set-top boxes including whether you skip commercials, play shows back later, or pump content from Hulu or YouTube through your set. Critics have long pointed out that Nielsen’s panel-based measurement leads to errors. Panelists tend to overestimate their viewing of new programs they think they’d like; college students, in that sweet youth demo, have been underrepresented; viewing outside of the home, such as in bars, is not recorded; and thanks to the blunt scoring system, some shows with real audiences have been given 0.0 share. New data is coming, and the shifts may unnerve $70 billion in TV investments.

Image: Môsieur J.

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