Nielsen Gives It the New College Try

Nielsen Media Research is planning a major test this spring of "extended home viewing": viewing that takes place at vacation homes and in the college dorm rooms where students in "Nielsen families" reside.

So far, broadcast networks ABC and The WB have agreed to participate in the test.

The WB has been pushing hard for such a test, given that a huge chunk of the network's core audience (18-24) is in college, turned on to shows like Angel, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment
and Smallville.
According to census figures, roughly 7% of the population age 18-24 resides in college dorms. One of the goals of the test is to determine whether the Nielsen national household sample has a comparable level of dorm-residing students.

Nielsen confirms that approximately 11% of its national viewer sample lives within a family that owns a second home. Currently, viewing in second homes is not monitored by Nielsen's people-meter service.

Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at WB parent Turner Broadcasting System, considers getting a fix on viewing in second homes important because it represents viewing by higher-income families with greater spending power, families that advertisers covet. "Advertisers buy us for impressions. More and more viewing takes place out of the home, and it has to be measured wherever it takes place."

According to Wakshlag, if the test goes well and demonstrates that there's a viable way to retrieve reliable data from dorms and second homes, the data might be incorporated into Nielsen's national ratings report by 2005. No confirmation on a date from Nielsen although a source there said such data could be available earlier if the test goes well.

Andy Fessell, senior vice president, research, ABC Television Network, confirmed that network's participation: "We've agreed to it." Several years ago, ABC commissioned Nielsen to do a special out-of-home research study that showed significant and uncounted viewership for Monday Night Football
and its daytime shows outside of the primary residence.

Sources say Nielsen wants four or five of the networks to pay $400,000 each to conduct the test.

Fox, CBS and UPN are still mulling whether to participate. At Fox, sources say, research executives are awaiting word from News Corp. President Peter Chernin as to whether the company will participate in the test.

NBC, on the other hand, has decided to pass, according to Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development, for several reasons, even though he believes that Nielsen should be measuring both areas: "They should measure as much of the audience as they possibly can."

But Wurtzel says it's unfair of Nielsen to keep coming back to the broadcast networks to underwrite its research and development. "The CAB and cable keep saying the networks are just one more channel now and that they're at parity. Yet, when it comes to writing the check, those guys don't seem to show up. Instead of asking $400,000 from four or five networks, why not have everybody pay $20,000 because everybody benefits from more-accurate ratings."

Wurtzel is also skeptical that Nielsen will be able to get access to college dorms, let alone get reliable data from an age group that is least reliable when it comes to pushing the right buttons on the people meter back at their primary residences. He said he urged Nielsen to do a small feasibility study several years ago to see whether it could even get access to dorms before asking the networks for big bucks for a full-blown test. But nothing came of it, he said.

As for second-home measurement, he says, Nielsen ought to be doing that now, without the extra charge.