A correction was made to this article on Nov. 11, 2003.
NBC thinks it’s solved part of the mystery surrounding the case of the disappearing young male viewers — and it wants Nielsen Media Research to admit there’s a problem and speed up its investigation of the issue.
Peacock research prexy Alan Wurtzel believes that underlying this fall’s dramatic declines in young male auds is Nielsen’s attempt to better measure Hispanic audiences. Wurtzel has no problem with such an effort, but NBC analysis of Nielsen data shows that by adding in young male Hispanic viewers to the sample so quickly, there’s been an unintended consequence: erratic fluctuations in overall viewership numbers.
“I’m not saying this is the smoking gun,” Wurtzel said. “But I do believe we’ve located a significant issue, and Nielsen doesn’t seem to be providing us with the answers. It shouldn’t be our job to do this. When you have billions of dollars riding on this, for this thing to be festering without any resolution in sight is extremely frustrating.”
Among NBC’s findings:
- Among all men 18-34, overall viewing went from 56 minutes a day during the first two weeks of last season to 54 minutes this year — a minor dip. But among Hispanic men 18-34, the decline is staggering: Viewership has dipped from 60 minutes per day to 47 minutes.
That’s key, since the biggest declines in young men took place in the first two weeks of the current season. Peacock researches believe it’s just not logical that Hispanic men’s viewing habits would change so radically in a year.
- The number of Hispanic male viewers in Nielsen’s sample has jumped dramatically since the spring. In the spring, the number of Hispanic men in the sample repped 74% of the total universe of 11.8 million Hispanic males; by October that number had jumped to 94%.
NBC supports Nielsen’s attempt to have its sample reflect the population as a whole, but notes that historically, such rapid changes to the sample have cause ratings glitches.
- Nielsen’s sample has become more heavily weighted to include viewers in the Pacific time zone while counting fewer auds in the Central time zone.
- Despite assertions from Nielsen indicating increased videogame and DVD usage was behind the male declines, Wurtzel said the usage of DVDs, videogames and VCRs is flat vs. 2002.
- A wide variety of hit series are off their paces of a year ago, with their overall averages dragged down in large part due to young men. It’s across every network, comedies and dramas.
Television’s most-watched show, CBS drama “CSI,” for example, is down 45% year-to-year in men 18-24, but improves to a 24% decline in men 18-34 and is off just 10% in men 35-49. “West Wing” is down 54% in men 18-24, 27% in men 18-34 but just 8% in men 35-49. And UPN’s “WWE Smackdown” is off 35% in men 18-24, a better 20% in men 18-34 and is actually up 22% in men 35-49.
In each case, the year-to-year comparisons look much healthier for the shows among men 25-49 than 18-24.
“I don’t believe (the sample issue) is the only reason for the declines, but it’s a significant contributor,” Wertzel said. “The industry needs to focus on the sample and disabuse ourselves of the notion that it’s the programming or alternative (entertainment forms.)”
Nielsen senior VP of communications Jack Loftus takes issue with some of NBC’s interpretation of the data.
For example, he noted the dramatic decline in overall TV viewing time by Hispanic males is much less notable when looked at over the course of several months (though Wurtzel said Nielsen has only supplied NBC with the first two weeks of data.)
He also insisted that videogame, DVD and Internet usage is up year-to-year.
Yet Loftus also conceded that the Hispanic audience sample issue, along with other factors cited by NBC, could account for 2% or 3% of the 7% young male decline seen at the start of the season.
“I don’t think (the Hispanic) issue holds up as a major cause (of the decline), but it’s a factor,” he said. “In the end, it’ll probably be 10 factors. When you’re looking at a narrow demo like men 18-24, you’re going to see some big blips.”
As for NBC charges that Nielsen isn’t dealing with the issue in a speedy fashion, Loftus said it’s taken time for the company to analyze its data, write new software to process the data and review all the results.
“The want answers and they deserve answers,” he said. “It’s a lot of money at stake. It’s never going to be fast enough and we’re working on it as fast as we can.”
Nielsen is set to issue a new report on the ratings controversy within the next two weeks, although as recently as last week, the company was standing by its numbers.
Wurtzel said he’s not trying to attack Nielsen. He simply wants a resolution.
“It’s in no one’s best interest to have the measuring system questioned in any way,” he said. “This is a real issue we look at, and only Nielsen can answer our questions.”