Skip to main content

Nielsen to FCC: Where's the Beef?

Nielsen is telling the FCC that it remains the best way to determine if a TV station is getting significant out-of-market viewership.

(Image credit: Nielsen)

A determination that a station is "significantly viewed" in an adjacent market allows an MVPD serving that market to carry the station, even if it duplicates in-market syndicated or network programming. That importation is otherwise prohibited by the network nonduplication and syndicated exclusivity rules. 

Related: FCC Seeks Comment on Significantly Viewed Regime

The FCC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking March 31 suggesting that actual signal strength of a station may be a better metric than audience/viewership data. Specifically, the item sought comment on, among other things, whether Nielsen markets--as is currently the case--or some other methodology should be employed to determine "significantly viewed" status.

In suggesting it might be time for a change, the FCC pointed out that the current significantly viewed metric is 50 years old and it is unclear whether the necessary over-the-air viewership data is still available. 

Gray TV is one of those suggesting it might be time for a new metric and that Nielsen may not be able to conduct significantly viewed measurements. But Nielsen said that is off base, and that there could be unintended consequences in changing the methodology.

Nielsen said that allegations it over-relies on Return Path Data and that, in turn, compromises its ability to measure over-the-air viewing misses the fact that it does not rely principally on that data, but instead on a combination of that and code readers and other measurement tech to do the kind of accurate over-the-air viewing no one else does.

As to Gray's assertion Nielsen's "significantly viewed" surveys cost too much, the company says it does them at close to cost, and that going forward, it will make sure there are no exceptions to that.

As to the suggestion that the Longley-Rice predictive model of signal strength is a better way to determine if a station reaches the 25% of viewers in a market that triggers significant viewership, Nielsen says its issue is same as it ever was: A prediction is not evidence of any viewer watching anything. "A predictive model cannot tell anyone whether a station is viewed at all, let alone how much or how often it is viewed," it said.

"In the end, Nielsen’s commercial business succeeds only if it can accurately measure television audiences," it said. "This is why Nielsen has invested so many resources in improving its measurements, including those used for

significantly viewed determinations...."There is, in other words, no problem here that needs to be solved."

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association is backing Nielsen all the way.

"[T]he Commission should retain its Nielsen-based methodology for making significantly viewed determinations," it told the FCC in its comments on the issue. "In fact, Nielsen’s updated audience measurement methodology produces data that is, if anything, more reliable than the paper diary-based surveys the Commission and industry have relied on in the past."

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.