Nielsen’s Take on the Accuracy of Big Data

By Charlene Weisler

While many programmers have found that set top box data is immensely useful, Nielsen offers caution. Their take, as per a recent Nielsen NewsWire blog post, is that set top box data alone does not give the full picture of who is watching. They advise that this data should not be used in a vacuum because it undercounts certain demographics – especially young and diverse viewers. .

According to Nielsen, “At a time when Hollywood is moving for more on-screen diversity and inclusion in TV programming, the study found, using real data, that this could have implications when it comes to programming decisions.”

Here are some highlights from that post:

  1. The difference in delivery systems, especially Over-The-Air, skews return path data.

 Nielsen notes that some Americans don’t have the income to spend on premium entertainment content; others opt for over-the-air (OTA) programming in light of improving digital technology. Widespread technological advancements have fueled a steady growth of broadband-only (BBO) homes as well. The combination of OTA and BBO homes have swelled in the U.S. from 15 million homes in 2014 to nearly 28 million homes in 2018. Considering 41% of the consumers in those 28 million homes are multicultural (either Hispanic, African-American or Asian) and 10% are a younger demographic (18-24), an uncalibrated RPD sample would significantly under-represent these audiences and skew the total audience measurement.

  1. Set Top Box Data Undercounts Hispanics and African Americans

Nielsen reports that compared with official U.S. Census estimates and the Nielsen national panel, RPD-capable homes under-represent Hispanics by 33%, Spanish-language dominant Hispanics by 49% and African Americans by 34%.

  1. The Implications On An Actual Program Ranking is Stark

When looking at Fox’s Empire, for example, diverse audiences made up 75% of the program’s viewers in December 2018, driving ratings success when using a representative panel. However, using set top box data, these multicultural audiences were undercounted. “The differences,” noted Nielsen, “are not to be discounted. Looking at a rank among 25-54 year old viewers, Empire ranked 16th using Nielsen’s representative panel, but dropped to 38 in RPD-only homes. Conversely, Empire ranked third among OTA homes.”

Data silos continue to be a vexing problem in media. Taking return path data on its own will not give programmers a full picture of who is watching.



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