Nielsen vs. comScore – Competition in Media Measurement

Cable Rating System

There’s a new television and cable ratings system giving ratings giant Nielsen a run for its money – comScore. In actuality, it’s not that new, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that stations and agencies are taking a serious look at what comScore has to offer compared with Nielsen.

Previously known as Rentrak, comScore tracks viewing behavior from more than 35 million televisions in all 210 TV markets, a number likely to increase to more than 38 million by the first quarter of 2018. It is important to note that comScore ratings are based on households, meaning that if you are buying media targeting adults 25–54, a household with someone living in it who is 25–54 will be counted. comScore data is collected using satellite and cable set top boxes.

Nielsen – The First, But Not the Only

Nielsen has been the sole provider of supplying ratings data for more than 60 years. It has been the “currency” for media buying from all sides. Whether you were on the sales or buying side, every negotiation started with Nielsen numbers to tell you how many people watched and what kind of demographic profile they represented.

In 2018, Nielsen will be doing away with the standard “diary” format for collecting viewership data and will be using return path data (RPD) collected from satellite and cable set top boxes as well as the already established meters and people meters.

Currently, 140 markets are Nielsen “diary only” markets. These markets will move to 100 percent set top box collection of viewership data in 2018. In addition to the diary markets, Nielsen has 25 Local People Meter (LPM) markets, 19 metered markets with Portable People Meters (PPMs) and 26 metered markets without PPMs. Meters are electronic boxes installed in Nielsen family homes to record what is being watched and by whom. With LPMs and PPMs, each family member in a sample household is assigned a personal viewing button that identifies them as the viewer and records their age and sex (along with other relevant demographic information).

Accessing Set Top Box Data

Although set top box data collection is a more accurate avenue for collecting data than diaries, there is one problem – some cable companies won’t share their data. Currently, only AT&T/DirecTV, Dish, Charter (Legacy) and Cox (for comScore only) share their data. Both comScore and Nielsen are missing data from the main cable households – Comcast, Spectrum (Charter, Time Warner & Bright House) and Altice (Cablevision). In 2018, Spectrum will begin sharing its data with both Nielsen and comScore.

The Biggest Difference

The main difference between the two ratings companies is their methodology and how they handle demographic data. comScore does not have demographic ratings. Instead, comScore uses Experian data to indicate household composition. comScore uses program rating indices compared to the total U.S. households that have people within that age range residing in them. For instance, if a household consists of one male age 51, one female age 50, one female age 16 and one male age 19, each one of those age groups receives credit for viewership of each program viewed within that household.

Nielsen does have specific demographic data gathered from the people meter panels and viewer assignment that is predicated on matching viewing probabilities of LPM/PPM homes to non-LPM homes to assign their viewing.

The Winner for Us

Nielsen is still the ratings currency for the majority of the stations that we work with. That, coupled with the fact that Nielsen’s demographic ratings are more statistically sound than comScore’s, are the main reasons why Strong Automotive Merchandising still primarily uses Nielsen data when negotiating with stations.

With Nielsen evolving to 100 percent return path data in 2018, sample sizes will increase, making ratings and viewership data more reliable and estimating program audiences more precise. All of this adds up to more exact buys for our clients.

Both ratings companies continue to evolve and offer enhancements to their methodologies.

As your agency, we want you to be familiar with both Nielsen and comScore and what they have to offer. We will be watching the developments and talking about this more in 2018.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. Either way – competition is good and ultimately it will only mean a better product and more accurate data reporting in the future.


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About the author

John Paul Strong: For someone who spends an average of 135 days outside of the office meeting with clients, John Paul Strong remains the driving force behind his Birmingham-based advertising agency, Strong Automotive Merchandising. Strong began his career as a fresh-faced account executive at Martin Advertising. Learning much, but never satisfied, he convinced his father to partner with him in reopening their own advertising agency in 2004, catering exclusively to the automotive industry. The company started strong but humble. The original roster of 10 employees and eight clients has exploded today, growing to 100 full-time employees and more than 220 automotive dealers. And it hasn’t gone without notice. Along the way, Strong Automotive Merchandising has been recognized as a perennial winner in Birmingham’s Best Places to Work contest and as a Top 20 Agency among Google’s National Ad Partners. Yet, Strong still finds time to share what he’s learned along the way. As an avid writer, he has published two books in the Next Day Traffic series, along with more than 1,000 automotive-focused blog posts. He is also a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, and his success has been recognized in the Birmingham Business Journal’s 2013 “Top 40 Under 40” feature and the 2017 CEO Awards. The foundation for Strong’s career began at the University of Montevallo where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and advanced public speaking. Always staying ahead of the competition, Strong later went on to study in Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program. Amid all of his endeavors, Strong always makes time for what matters most – his family. He is a proud husband to Amy, and father to Lilly Grace, Anne Charlotte, Hudson, and Ford.


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