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Zeroing in on demo

Nielsen includes ratings for 'Zero-TV' households

Network execs have lately been quick to chide Nielsen as an old dog that can’t seem to learn new, more digitally savvy tricks, citing a ratings system that does not account for online numbers that can help drive viewership for a show.

But the org’s cross-platform report this month is a step in a more digital direction, with an emphasis on what Nielsen calls “Zero-TV” households.

“These households did not fit Nielsen’s traditional definition of a TV household and will start to be included in our measured samples for the coming 2013-2014 season,” senior veep of insights Dounia Turril said in the report.

Zero-TV households account for less than 5% of American homes, but their numbers have more than doubled since 2007, when around 2 million homes qualified as Zero-TV households. (Today, the number is over 5 million.)

Surprisingly, being a Zero-TV household doesn’t mean its residents don’t own actual televisions — 75% of the Zero-TV homes have at least one TV set, but get their entertainment content through other services and devices that Nielsen doesn’t traditionally track. Almost half of them watch TV content through subscription services like Hulu or Netflix, and the Zero-TV demos tend to skew younger.

Teens and young adults, raised on Xbox and iPhones, are most represented in game console viewing and watching content on mobile phones.

Why are these viewers maintaining a Zero-TV lifestyle? Roughly 36% cite cost and 31% cite lack of interest as their reasons for dodging traditional TV services.

How Nielsen will incorporate this new wave of content consumers into its traditional ratings system has yet to be seen. L+7 numbers have become increasingly leveraged by nets plagued by tepid same-night broadcast ratings, and now a call for a better standard in digital ratings can be heard from younger-skewing nets like CW, whose digital aud base is not accounted for in traditional numbers.

An acknowledgment of the Zero-TV household evolution and basic data on their numbers may not be enough to satisfy some net execs, though, who have already turned away from certain Nielsen standards when it comes to renewing programs. What’s more, Zero-TV households do not include homes where traditional TV service is available, but until Nielsen integrates Zero-TV homes into its traditional ratings net, criticism of the system will continue.

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