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Nielsen Taking DVR Data National

Nielsen Media Research will release its first national ratings with viewing data from digital video recorders (DVRs) right after New Year’s, but the ratings giant isn’t expecting to see significant impact for at least several months.

On Jan. 4, Nielsen will release its first full week of data with digital video recorder measurement. From then on, ratings data will be split into three streams of information: live viewing, live viewing plus programs played back by 3 a.m. (when Nielsen meters report viewing to the company’s Florida processing center) and live viewing plus programs played back within seven days. Nielsen says it selected the three periods based on feedback from its clients. “Research shows 90% of all DVR viewing occurs one week after initial airing,”

Sara Erichson, Nielsen’s general manager of National Services, said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.

At first, the DVR ratings will be based on a very small pool of participants. Nielsen currently has meters installed in 60 homes with DVRs but says it will add 100 homes per month for the next several months. Eventually, it plans to have 700 to 1,000 DVR homes in the sample, with customers using TiVo, cable set-top boxes and satellite services.

DVRs are slowly catching on with TV customers. Currently, about 7% of US TV households have the technology, but that figure is expected to swell to 25% by 2007. Nielsen has been criticized for moving too slowly to measure new technologies, such as DVRs and video-on-demand (VOD), leaving networks and advertising agencies to try to chase their own research.

But Nielsen says it has been working diligently to measure advanced services, and the DVR ratings are the culmination of several years of preparation. “Nielsen must be constantly ahead of the curve in identifying how people are using media,” says Pat McDonough, senior VP, planning, policy and analysis.

For example, Nielsen will expand its national ratings sample from 5,000 participants to 10,000 participants by the middle of next year. It has also been upgrading to “active-passive” meters that are capable of measuring digital-TV features, such as DVRs and VOD. Next spring, Nielsen plans to start releasing some VOD measurement.

But all the additional information is sure to cause confusion in the industry. Some advertisers are reluctant to look at the time-shifted data, while networks may cherry-pick which data stream to refer to based on the results. Media outlets may be unclear which batch of ratings to report. Nielsen plans to use “live plus same day” ratings as the default data on its Web site, but executives stressed that networks and the ad community will likely use all three streams. Clients, says McDonough, “have stressed they are interested in looking at all three streams of the data that is available.”