Nielsen Apologizes for Ratings Delays

NEW YORK Mitchell Habib, evp, global business services at Nielsen, apologized to the research firm’s major clients yesterday for the increased number of delays the company has suffered in producing network TV ratings reports this season, the first in which Nielsen has measured commercial audiences.

Separately, Nielsen unveiled new research detailing how DVR usage is reshaping TV viewing patterns.

Adweek is a unit of the Nielsen Co.

Habib apologized to dozens of network, cable and broadcast syndication clients who had convened in Las Vegas on the eve of a two-day audience measurement meeting that began today, when the DVR data was released.

Sources in attendance said Habib told the clients that Nielsen had “miscalculated” the processes needed to effectively handle all of the changes the company made in its ratings service this year.

Habib stressed that the company’s top priority was to evaluate and correct the problems, sources said.

A Nielsen rep confirmed that Habib apologized to clients. “Getting data to our clients in a timely fashion is the most important priority we have. And we have communicated that to our clients by letter, on the phone and in person,” the rep added.

The apology followed a client letter Nielsen issued last Friday, acknowledging the delays and outlining steps it was taking to address them. The new commercial ratings system, the implementation of new ratings meters, a bigger ratings household panel and dramatically increased data from DVR usage all combined to overwhelm some of the company’s processing systems, the letter stated.

Nielsen has formed an internal “strike force,” led by Habib, that will oversee a review of processes and the implementation of corrective steps, including greater server capacity and improved training programs for staff.

Nielsen said it expects to see a “material reduction” in the number of delays by mid-March and month-by-month improvement afterward.

Meanwhile, the new DVR data portends sweeping changes in future TV viewing patterns and even a possible expansion of prime time past 11 p.m.

The company reported that in November 2007, playback viewing peaked between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. — when 11 percent of viewers in DVR homes watched previously recorded programs. Meanwhile, 7 percent of viewers watched pre-recorded shows from 11 p.m. to midnight.

“Consumers are increasingly making time-shifted viewing an important part of their overall television experience, and are beginning to change traditional TV models,” said Patricia McDonough, svp, insights, analysis and policy at Nielsen Media Research. “DVR playback has added to TV usage, particularly during the most watched hours of the day, as viewers take advantage of their ability to watch their favorite shows according to their own schedules.”

Nielsen divided DVR users into three main groups. So-called “heavy shifters,” watch an average 26 hours of recorded programs (or about half of their weekly TV intake) per week. Most of those users tend to be middle-income women between 18 and 49.

So-called “medium shifters” watch somewhat more TV than average; and about a third of their viewing is time-shifted.

Currently, most people in DVR homes (nearly 70 percent) use the playback devices sparingly and fall into the “light shifters” classification. Most of those viewers live in upper income households ($100,000-plus), are more likely to own a high-definition TV set and spend only about 10 percent of their TV time watching shows in playback mode.