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Nielsen misreports broadcaster ratings

Research firm Nielsen has gotten itself into hot water as reports surface that it has been presenting inaccurate ratings for the broadcast networks for the past seven months.

According to reports on the NY Times while the error ended up positively reflecting ABC network’s numbers, the rest were not as lucky.

During a conference call, Nielsen said internal investigation uncovered the error and stressed that 98% – 99% percent of ratings would be affected by less than .05%. Meanwhile Nielsen also confirmed that on 6 October, the company had discovered a technical error which was introduced on 2 March 2014 “which was generally imperceptible”.

“As a result, small amounts of viewing for some national broadcast networks and syndicators were misattributed […]A software fix to correct the problem was deployed on Oct. 9, 2014, meaning that all data being released today and going forward is correct,” said the company in a press statement.

The research firm stressed that the misinterpreted data impact is small with only a handful of cases seeing a significant impact.

“We are working closely with our clients to manage this situation and will continue to be transparent with the industry and the media about our plans. In addition, we will undertake an exhaustive post-mortem-internally and with our clients-and we are asking Ernst & Young and the MRC to join us in these efforts,” it said.

Meanwhile, Swapna Nayak, regional communications planner at IPG Mediabrands, World Markets Asia said that the dependence on Nielsen’s report on TV ratings has thus far been purely because of the trust and credibility it has built within the agency networks. She added that agencies rely on Nielsen for its credibility as well as for the fact that no one else in the market is doing what Nielsen is doing at such a scale.

“Indeed, while the error is a dent in Nielsen’s credibility, most agencies will have to move forward in the hope that Nielsen will learn from this incident though being the universally trusted source of TV ratings measurement,” Nayak said, adding that she does not see an immediate pull back in agencies abiding by its ratings points.

Meanwhile Naman Sharma, research & analytics director, Havas Media Asia Pacific added that TV ratings are the all important currency for television industry and any bias or inaccuracy in results is a significant “waste” of advertising dollars. The recent case in US where ABC benefited from inaccuracies and the way it has been reported are symptomatic of the way Nielsen is accused of shrouding the measurement methodology in secrecy.

“The reference to statistical error is particularly baffling because statistical errors generally are a function of sample sizes and never directionally benefit one particular result, in this care increased ratings for ABC,” said  Sharma.

Sharma added that time has come for “an independent industry body” to be appointed in each country to audit and certify the research method.

“This would increase the confidence in the measurement system and will also put positive pressure on Nielsen to update the measurement methods which in some countries in Asia are starting to become inadequate due to fast changing entertainment landscape.”

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