In the fall of 2016, Nielsen announced that it was finally doing away with the antiquated paper diary system that it had been using for the past 60 years. The old system, in which Nielsen sent diaries to families in each DMA and asked them to hand-record all programming watched by all members of the family, was conducted four times each year in what was called “sweeps.” After each time period, Nielsen collected the diaries and used the data to create its rating surveys. The four-times-per-year sweeps ratings had numerous problems, including inaccuracies in the diaries that left ratings voids so large, the system lost accreditation with the Media Rating Council nine years ago.
The new ratings system—called RPD (Return Path Data)—has taken two years to fully transition, and finally went live in smaller DMAs in May 2018. The new system uses data from cable and satellite company set-top boxes to provide monthly program ratings. Although this is much more accurate than the paper diary methodology, there are still some issues with it. Most notably, set-top boxes alone cannot gauge who is watching, which means the system alone cannot measure demographics. To help combat this issue, third-party data and data from Nielsen’s national meters is now layered on top of set-top box data to help provide demographic information for advertisers.
So, what does this mean for the average advertiser?
Now that ratings in 140 smaller DMAs – including Rochester, Syracuse and Elmira/Corning – have been added to the new system, stations in these markets have seen some notable rating and share loss. In Rochester, the loss was proportionate across all stations, so there was no real change in station dominance. Advertisers in Rochester are still getting the same delivery they were always getting, the rating points have just been reset to a lower scale based on the updated methodology.
These results indicate that the paper diary system had been doing a good job in terms of telling us which stations had the best ratings. So, from a strategic perspective, the RPD system hasn’t changed how advertisers should negotiate or allocate a TV buy in Rochester.
To prepare for RPD TV measurement, Tipping Point lowered projected ratings after the impact data came in; now, armed with almost a year’s worth of monthly TV data, projecting TV ratings has become an easier task.
It is worth noting that the change is limited to small markets, such as Rochester and Syracuse. Large- and medium-sized markets, including Buffalo, moved away from the diary-based system over the past two years. These markets are measured in two different ways:
In summary, the change to the RPD methodology will bolster the sample size in smaller markets, bringing in more data and greater stability to the estimated ratings. Although there was some fluctuation with the changeover, now that it’s been completed, the long-term impact should result in less variability between the estimated and posted ratings.
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