Nielsen acknowledges OTA proliferation, adds 15,000 TV audience meters in 140 local markets

The newly recruited meter households, Nielsen said, will serve as a “true in-market viewing source with known demographics and TV viewing information." (Trevor Hart/Gallery Stock)

As it continues to transition out of the century-old paper-diary era, Nielsen said today it will add nearly 15,000 television audience meters in 7,000 homes in 140 of the 210 local TV markets across the country.

As of February, the measurement company estimated about 25% of viewing in those 140 markets comes over the air (via antennas) rather than through set-top boxes. One market hit as high as 50% OTA.

Data collected through set-top boxes does not capture the full audience, including for digital sub-channels (or “D2s”). Instead of relying on viewers to record their viewing habits with pen and paper—a method the company has at last phased out nationally—the meters will relay the information.

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In a news release, Kelly Abcarian, a senior vice president of Nielsen Product Leadership, said the company has “uncovered significant challenges with the data” from set-top boxes. “To solve for these limitations, especially measuring growing audiences viewing via over-the-air broadcast, we looked at multiple solutions including online recruited panels and quick-query surveys. Ultimately, we concluded that only Nielsen’s proven TV audience meters allow us to address the challenges that come with set-top-box data.”

The newly recruited meter households, Nielsen said, will serve as a “true in-market viewing source with known demographics and TV viewing information,” allowing the company to project audience estimates for over-the-air tuning. The new meters will not contribute to Nielsen’s national TV ratings.

The NAB weighed in with its support on the meter plan, offering this statement: “We have long believed that over-the-air TV station viewership has been undercounted by measurement companies as multicast ‘D2’ networks gain in popularity and TV antenna sales increase. Today’s Nielsen announcement sends a positive signal about the renewed vitality of local and network broadcast television in an era of pay TV cord-cutting and cord-shaving.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, the announcement came during broadcast upfronts week in New York—the traditional time when networks pitch advertisers on their new programming. The blitz of pitches has in recent years turned into an angst-fest about the caliber of TV data, comparisons with more precise numbers in the digital arena and the task of measuring viewing as mobile devices proliferate.

Nielsen, long the market-share leader in measurement, has come under increasing fire for its attempts to make its tools more comprehensive and robust.