Understanding TV ratings

In New Zealand, as with many countries around the world, the task of measuring television audiences is contracted to Nielsen.

Nielsen’s Television Audience Measurement (or TAM) provides a detailed analysis of consumer viewing behavior by numerous demographics. Which members of a household are watching which shows? And which programmes do they all watch together? Which family characteristics, such as  income and education correlate with viewing choices?

This depth of knowledge allows advertisers to refine their campaigns based on demographics, day-part and audience composition.

How they do it

Electronic metering technology is at the heart of the Nielsen ratings process. These tools capture not only what programme is being watched, but also who is watching and when.  In January 2012 the measurement was expanded to include time-shifted viewing.

The Peoplemeter Panel (“the Panel”)

The Panel is representative of the entire New Zealand population. It is made up of approximately 600 households who are carefully chosen to reflect a “mini-New Zealand”. These dwellings may be either owned or rented properties.

Establishment Survey

Twice a year Nielsen run an Establishment Survey to complement data from the national Census. These surveys provide detailed information on variables such as the number of television sets in homes, weight of viewing, SKY subscription status, the presence of Freeview or a PVR  plus provide a pool of homes from to recruited to the Panel.

The data from the Census and Establishment Survey is combined to define the composition of the Panel and ensure a balanced representation of the New Zealand population. Homes may remain on the panel for a maximum of 72 months.

The data cycle

Once a household has been selected to join the Panel, the PeopleMeter equipment is installed on every television set in the home. This technology captures the household’s daily viewing information and transfers it back to Nielsen (at 2am every morning) for validation and analysis.

At 9:30am each morning the overnight data is released to the Broadcasters and other stakeholders.

Consolidated data, combining the overnight data with any time-shifted viewing over the seven days from the original broadcast time, is released a week later to complete the accurate picture of who’s watching what, when and how.

How the PeopleMeter actually works

A PeopleMeter is made up of four components:

The base unit

  • There is one Base Unit for every television set within the home
  • Automatically detects the status of the television set (on/off) and the audio signature of the programme being watched

The remote control handset

  • One for every television in the home
  • Every permanent member of the home is allocated their own button on the handset
  • The panel member pushes their allocated button to identify when they are viewing the television set
  • Guests can also register themselves as viewers using the handset

The display unit

  • One per television set
  • This unit displays the date and time when the TV set is off
  • When the TV set is on, it prompts “Who’s Viewing” and displays which panel members are currently logged in as viewers

The transmission unit

  • There is one transmission Unit for each home
  • This collects and stores the data from all the TVs within the home every day
  • Each day at 2am data from the previous 24 hours is retrieved by TAM and processed ready for a 9:30am delivery.

Independent Auditing of the Peoplemeter Panel

Independent auditing of the service has been in place since 1990.

Every 4 weeks, the Auditor reviews performance of the panel against a range of Key Performance Indicators (KPI). These KPIs have been developed in consultation with the Broadcasters Group, which comprises TVNZ, MediaWorks TV and SKY Network Television.

In addition to the monthly auditing of performance, Nielsen conducts rolling coincidental surveys throughout the year to check panelists’ claimed viewing behaviour against their button pushing behaviour. These surveys consistently show that there is a very high level of compliance in the use of PeopleMeter equipment among panelists.

Changes to methodology in January 2012

This presentation gives advertisers an overview of the changes being made to the way television audience numbers are measured and reported.

With the major changes in consumer technology over the past several years, the Television Industry recognised the need to enhance the existing measurement system to include time shifted viewing via Personal Video Recorders (PVRs).

In 2010, a new agreement was reached with Nielsen TAM to invest in state-of-the-art audience measurement technology which will support the inclusion of time shifted viewing as well as viewing on all types of television screens.  In addition, the panel size will increase to approximately 600 homes (1500 people).

The new system, called UNITAM, went live in New Zealand on Sunday 15 January 2012.