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Exclusive: Nielsen Scales Back Code Readers

Nielsen has discontinued its code reader plans in Dallas, Charlotte, St. Louis and other Local People Meter and set meter markets, a disappointing development for station chiefs in those areas. A rollout of the measurement devices continues as planned in 14 diary markets.

Fewer than 10 markets lose their code reader measurement, said a Nielsen spokesperson. The decision was based on “client feedback,” said the spokesperson, with clients desiring increased “persons measurement.”

The spokesperson stressed that Nielsen remains committed to the code reader technology, but only in diary markets.

In the fall of 2012, Nielsen began installation of 1,200 iPhone-sized devices in viewers’ homes in Dallas, Charlotte and St. Louis to passively measure viewing by capturing an audio “watermark” from the TV. The code readers, along with set top data, aimed to stabilize often fluctuating ratings in the Local People Meter markets.

Station chiefs were notified of the change May 29, as Nielsen issued a release announcing a “significant and broad expansion” of sample sizes in TV markets. That includes 200-home increases in Dallas, Washington, Houston, Miami and Denver this year; 200-home increases in Charlotte, St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta and Phoenix next year; and 300-home expansions in New York and Los Angeles next year.

The announcement will have a “positive and immediate impact,” said the Nielsen spokesperson.

Sample size, along with cost, is an ongoing source of anxiety for station clients.

One St. Louis station vet said he was aware of problems with the code readers when Nielsen failed to deliver scheduled test data. Other station chiefs mentioned red flags when Nielsen repeatedly failed to hit target dates related to the initiative.

“We’re going along for a year and all of the sudden they tell us they’re pulling out,” groused one general manager in an LPM market.

Nielsen had planned to roll out the code readers in the metered DMAs of Nashville, Greenville (S.C.), Birmingham, Albuquerque and New Orleans before installing them in all metered markets.

The ratings giant sought accreditation for the code readers with the Media Ratings Council (MRC); MRC did not return a query seeking comment at presstime. The Nielsen spokesperson acknowledged Nielsen had received “feedback” from MRC, but is not yet accredited.

“We heard what they said and adjusted our plan accordingly,” the spokesperson said.