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Nielsen Getting Back to Business in New Orleans

Nielsen Media Research says it will resume ratings in the New Orleans market in February 2007, marking the first time the ratings company has measured in that market since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005.

Nielsen says it will use 300 participating households for a set-top meter and diary system and eventually build up to 400 households. It is not clear how many of the participants were Nielsen homes before the storm.

Before the storm, New Orleans ranked as the 43rd-largest TV market, with about 672,000 TV homes. Following the storm, hundreds of thousands of residents have left and are not expected to return. Nielsen, working with research firm Claritas, plans to release its new market estimates in September.

New Orleans Station managers have been anxious to receive Nielsen ratings, the currency for advertising sales. Without ratings, sales people and media buyers have been relying on old ratings books and estimates from national ratings to evaluate programming and set pricing.

Many questions remain about the area’s future population, both its size and composition. In a note to clients Monday, Nielsen said its Claritas data from Jan. 1, 2006 shows the New Orleans DMA is estimated at 83.8% of its pre-Katrina population.

In the Gulfport-Biloxi, Miss. market, also heavily hit by Katrina, the population is estimated at 91.9% of pre-storm levels.

However, the information does not address shifts in the markets' demographics, considered to be one of the lasting effects of Katrina. Many of New Orleans' African-American residents are not expected to return, while an increase in the Hispanic population is forecasted. Nielsen says Claritas does not address demographics and that governmental studies currently under way will provide better information. One study says only 32.8% of African-American residents have returned home, compared to nearly 70% of white residents.

Nielsen also says that it is committing a half-million dollars to Habitat for Humanity to build four homes in the New Orleans area. Nielsen employees will assist in the construction.