Odds Now Favor Competition in U.S. TV Ratings: Part 3 – Bill Harvey

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Why Competition Never Possible Before is Now Likely — A Multi-Part Series. (Read Part One here and Part Two here .)

Nielsen's TV audience measurement system has proven itself invulnerable to competition for the better part of a century. What has changed today that makes competition more likely?

Fundamentally, Nielsen itself has changed. Those changes were discussed in Part II .

Besides the changes in Nielsen, the competition has also changed — it has become stronger. In the final installment of this series we will delve deeper into each possible contender, and in this post we will first look at a broad overview.

We saw in the prior posts that Nielsen, founded on the idea of passive measurement, has been moving away from it and getting into more and more fusion. Even the national peoplemeter panel is still self-reported buttonpushing when passive peoplemeters have been available for decades. Meanwhile, as TV has become a multi-device medium, the marketplace has been going the other way, applying lessons learned in digital to favor direct match real data over assumed/modeled random overlap among the pieces of the TV audience carved up by the different devices on which TV is now viewed.

Today the examples of passive single-source measurement without fusion are Symphony Advanced Media and TRA/TiVo Research. SymphonyAM is focused on the measuring all parts of TV — all screen media and everything people do with these media — on a single passive sample. TRA/TiVo Research is focused on increasing ROI (which it has proven to do vetted by the clients involved) by passive direct match measurement (without fusion) of TV, digital and purchases on big data sample sizes. No one else including Nielsen has come close to TRA/TiVo Research sample sizes for the passive direct-matched combination of TV, digital, and purchase — in the hundreds of thousands vs. Nielsen's direct match of TV, digital and purchases at about 3000. These two services have set a high bar by getting all data from the same people/homes without modeling any data. While not accepted as currency yet by most players, these companies have become indispensable to major players and whetted appetites for true passive single-source without modeled data — and this affects the context in which Nielsen is viewed, teaching all would-be competitors something.

Now Simulmedia is also doing direct match with individual advertisers' household level customer data files on sample sizes comparable to TRA/TiVo Research. The combination of the activities of these three companies puts more pressure on Nielsen to enlarge its direct match seed sample so that it is able to stand on its own without having to fuse in data for sample size defensibility. In effect, sample size defensibility is being traded off with fusion defensibility, and the industry would be best served by having both direct match without fusion and large sample sizes (hundreds of thousands and up, directly matched).

In Part 4 of this series we will look at the activities of other research companies that are putting pressure on Nielsen, helping to set a higher bar for the industry and lining up to be part of an alternative currency.

Bill Harvey is a well-known media researcher and inventor who co-founded TRA, Inc. and is its Strategic Advisor. His nonprofit Human Effectiveness Institute runs his weekly blog on consciousnessBill Harveyoptimization. Bill can be contacted at bill@billharveyconsulting.com

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