SVG Analysis: How Nielsen can avoid HD viewer measurement confusion

By Ken Kerschbaumer

After nearly a decade as the ugly (yet prettier) stepchild HDTV viewers are finally going to be recognized by Nielsen as worthy of measurement. Beginning in November Nielsen will begin reporting HD viewership although the company seems to be confused over how to define an HD viewer. As a result it will be consulting with clients to see how Nielsen should define an HD home: either HD Capable (having an HD set and tuner) or HD Receivable (also receiving at least one exclusively HD network or station). It’s possible Nielsen could use on or both of them when it begins reporting.

For sportscasters who have made the commitment to HD the ratings should validate the millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours of hard work in the field (and at the network) to deliver HDTV. More importantly, SVG believes the move, particularly on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon when HD sports programming dominates the HD choices, will show that HD set owners search out HD content and that it will drive even more HD content creation. Expect it to provide the largest impetus to date to get smaller sporting events in the HD game.

Of course, the big question is whether networks will be able to use the data to get additional revenues from advertisers. If ESPN can show that it’s 8 a.m. SportsCenter HD telecast draws 65% or 75% of HD male viewers in the 18-49 demo will advertisers fully embrace HD? We certainly hope so.

Our only concern with the Nielsen approach is that HD Capable and HD Receivable is simply over-thinking HD audience measurement. Here’s why:

By defining HD Receivable as a household that receives at least one HD exclusive network or station is a disservice to networks like CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and ESPN (plus the multitude of regional HD networks) that are available in both SD and HD. At first blush it sounds like the only homes that would be defined as HD Receivable are those that receive HDNet, Discovery HD, or Universal HD as they are the primary “HD only” networks. Don’t over-the-air HD viewers count?

As for HD capable that sounds like a better starting point but will they count SD viewing on HD sets as part of the SD measurement of part of the HD measurement?

Simply put, Nielsen seems to be parsing HD viewers and networks in a way that will add to lingering HD confusion. The goal at the end of the day should be to allow viewers who watch HD networks to be counted. That means HD households should be defined as a household that has the ability to receive over-the-air digital signals (SD or HD) or has an HD-capable set-top box (either from a cable, satellite or telco provider or, eventually, a digital-to-analog converter box).

With respect to audience measurement it’s even clearer: if the viewer is watching the HD version of a channel like CBS (for example, channel 702 on TWC Manhattan) and not the analog version (channel 2) that’s one for HD viewership and zero for analog viewership. The same goes for ESPN (725 vs. 29), YES Network (708 vs. 30) or NBC (704 vs. 4).

Regardless of how it all shakes out the move by Nielsen is long overdue and a welcome addition to the audience measurement lexicon.