Nielsen’s Men 18-34 Nos. Still Under Fire

New York -- Research officials at ESPN and CBS Monday expressed continuing concerns that chinks in Nielsen Media Research’s methodology may be resulting in TV viewership by young men being underreported.

Artie Bulgrin, ESPN’s senior vice president and director of research and sales development, and David Poltrack, executive VP of research and planning for the CBS Television Network, voiced their questions about Nielsen’s numbers during a luncheon panel here conducted by the Radio and Television Research Council.

The topic was, "Where Have All the Young Men Gone? Corollary: Why Have All the Young Men Gone?," and much of the discussion focused on Nielsen’s recent "white paper" on why primetime-TV viewership by men 18-34 had dropped 7.7% this season.

Bulgrin said he has long been worried about the fact that Nielsen’s sample "is incomplete" because it bypasses homes that have digital-video recorders, which essentially means that 3%-5% of TV homes are not reflected in its sample.

There has been a tremendous growth in the use of DVRs, according to Bulgrin, and "these are all things that have to impact television usage."

Unlike the broadcast networks, ESPN hasn’t seen a decline in young-male viewership, Bulgrin said. He took the position that the channels that have seen the biggest declines in that age group are "those that have lost brand strength over the past few years."

So even while ESPN isn’t suffering, he added, "When the issue comes up, you have to put it under the microscope."

Poltrack, in turn, pointed out that Nielsen had conceded that 40% of the decline in young-male viewership could be attributed to changes in its sample and methodology. He also chided Nielsen for its failure to track out-of-home viewing.

"One of the reasons why there is so much volatility in this measurement is because a substantial amount of the viewing of these people, particularly the dependent young adults, is done outside of the home," Poltrack said. "Nielsen has only captured a portion of the viewing of these young men."

Nielsen had an executive on the panel -- Kevin Svenningsen, senior VP of sales and marketing -- who said the ratings company is doing a pilot study on the out-of-home issue. Nielsen has some meters deployed in college dorms and vacation homes.

"We do have a plan to get at that type of viewing," Svenningsen said.

As for its clients’ complaints about young-male viewing and the whole issue of men "disappearing," Svenningsen said, "We take it very seriously."

Poltrack agreed that there were several legitimate reasons why young-male viewership is off this season. "Some of this is real," he said.

For example Home Box Office, according to Poltrack, has seen a 31% drop in its ratings in this demo. One of the reasons contributing to that was last year, The Sopranos was doing a 6.5 rating with men 18-34. But this year, Carnivale only did a 1.5 rating in that age group, Poltrack said.

The overall 18-34 male demographic is getting younger, according to Poltrack. That’s because a larger group of men 17 are turning 18 than 34-year-olds turning 35, he added. And those males at the younger end of that age group watch less TV.

Panelist Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of corporate research at Horizon Media Inc., said Nielsen itself pointed out that video games, DVDs and Internet usage are probably contributing to viewership erosion of young men.