The Nielsen Company has selected Seattle, the nation's 14th largest television market, to introduce Local People Meter (LPM) technology which reports what television shows are being viewed by the general public.
The data collected helps television networks tailor programming to what the viewing public wants to see and will help them market themselves to advertisers who are trying to reach a particular demographic group. While the data collected doesn't directly change what networks are showing, the ratings will indicate the popularity of shows already on the air.
Nielsen families are randomly selected using U.S. census block group data which are selected to properly reflect the distribution of different ethnic groups within each of Washington's 17 counties. Based on individualized television markets, also known as Designated Market Areas (DMAs), Nielsen's goal is to have 600 homes in the Seattle market with 4.5 percent being African American. While communities of color have been more reluctant to participate in the program, Nielsen hopes to reach out to these communities to let them know it's important that their viewing habits are accurately measured and reported.
"This is the opportunity for people of color to get their voice heard," Hearn said. "It shows in the ratings, we were just looking at the programming we had 10-15 years ago, it wasn't as diverse and when you look at the top shows among African Americans now, you have diverse casts like "Grey's Anatomy," and "Dancing with the Stars," that show an array of ethnicities with their programming decisions," Hearn added. "It's a testament to a shift that's happening in the tv world so for African Americans, Latinos and Asians it's their chance to voice their opinion about which shows are being put on television."
Each sample household has a maximum two-year time limit for participation although the household can opt out of the program at any time. Having cable is not a necessity to participate; all that's required is a working television.
"With People Meter's if a particular network calls into Nielsen wanting to know how many African Americans watched 'American Idol' we can tell them the next day how many, what they were watching, when the viewers tune in and out, and the exact time period they were watching," said Crystal Hearn, Nielsen Community Affairs Manager. "The networks uses the data to determine which shows are watched more frequently by specific demographics and use it to buy and sell advertising and now they can now use it to buy and sell targeted advertising which is a great benefit for them."
By the year 2011, Nielsen says 70 percent of all U.S. households in 56 markets will be electronically measured with LPMs television ratings throughout the year. The new measurement technique provides local tv stations and advertisers overnight reports on audience composition. The LPM is an electronic device that continuously record television viewing behaviors every 2.7 seconds. They are connected to every electronic device in the home-DVD, VCR, video games and other electronics, and accurately records who is watching what programs and also measures other tv viewing activities such as video on demand, TiVo, Digital Video Recorders (DVR) and mobile video devices such as an iPod.
Nielsen has traditionally used viewing diaries in which households were to write down their tv viewing habits. With the LPMs, Nielsen hopes to have more accurate information to give their clients.
"The way technology is today, there are more things to view and keep up with so to have this automated form of recording information just makes it simpler all around," said Patricia Andrews-Keenan, vice president for Communications and Community Affairs. "The People Meter technology ensures were even more accurate with the data provided to our clients, the tv stations, the cable network to the advertising agencies and allows them to get the most accurate information possible."
Once a household is chosen, a Nielsen representative will install the equipment and train family members on its use. The identities of participating households is confidential to avoid outside influences that could compromise the integrity of the data collected.
"I found that the experience was somewhat easy. I mean, it's just pressing a remote. When the light comes on, it's blinking red, all you gotta do is press a button and you keep watching," said a former Nielsen household member.
In September of last year, Nielsen Media Research created the African American Advisory Council, which consists of 12 industry, business leaders and community leaders that advises and assists Nielsen on a range of issues involving sampling of African Americans for television viewing measurement and in reaching out to African American communities.
Nielsen Media Research, the world's largest ratings company, has been measuring television audiences in the United States since 1950. Nielsen is an independent organization with no ties to programming or channels it monitors. Nationally, Nielsen provides data from a sample of more than 10,000 households and it is then complied and delivered program executives and advertisers daily.
"Our panels need to representative of the population in an area," Andrews-Keenan said. "We want our panel to be reflective of the demographics of the market as possible so when we go into an African American home we want them to understand there is value to the information that they're providing and that their viewing choices are captured and really do count."
In April 2009, Nielson will officially launch the LPM in Portland, the nation's 23rd largest television market, in 600 households.