Rating service embraces TiVo

Nielsen is racing to keep up with the changing ways people watch television.

Starting Dec. 26, the ratings service will include the use of digital video recorders such as TiVo in its numbers. The company will also begin rating Spanish-language outlets Univision and Telemundo alongside the big six nets.

That inclusion will help those nets better sell their wares to advertisers, while the TiVo change could significantly affect overall ratings, once it’s fully deployed (and DVRs gain a larger sharehold).

“Nielsen must be constantly ahead of the curve in order to identify how people are using new media,” says Pat McDonough, Nielsen Media Research’s senior VP of planning, policy and analysis.

According to Nielsen, DVRs are now in approximately 7% of homes — but with that number expected to jump in the coming year, now was the time to change its methodology.

Just 60 DVR households out of Nielsen’s national sample of 9,000 will be monitored initially — which won’t make much of a dent in ratings. But long term, as Nielsen grows its DVR sample to reflect the national average, networks and shows will start to see some impact.

“It’s a cosmic shift in research,” says ABC research topper Mike Mellon. “There will be bumps and bruises and growing pains, but this is a change in the right direction.”

Mellon is most concerned with confusion over the increased amount of ratings info.

Going forward, Nielsen will release three sets of data: live viewing only; live viewing plus DVR watching up until 3 a.m. the next morning; and live viewing plus DVR watching through seven days after the initial broadcast.

Mellon says DVR users are some of the networks’ most desirable consumers. “These are upscale loyalists, the kind who watch a lot of TV,” he says. “You want those people in the sample.”

On the flip side, smaller cable and broadcast webs — frequently the second stop for viewers who can’t find anything to watch — may get dinged.

In DVR homes, viewers don’t flip around and settle for “least objectionable programming” — they simply fire up the TiVo and watch something off the hard drive.

“This will hurt lesser-rated, lesser-quality shows,” Mellon says.

Next up: Nielsen will start measuring video-on-demand service next June.

“Dec. 26 is going to be a really significant day for all of us at Nielsen,” says communications exec Anne Elliott.

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