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 has been the sole provider of supplying ratings data for over 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 utilizing 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% 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).

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 main difference between the two ratings companies is their methodology and how they handle demographic data. comScore does not have demographic ratings. 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.

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 Strong Automotive Merchandising still primarily uses Nielsen data when negotiating with the stations.

With Nielsen evolving to 100% 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 as we head into 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.


About the author

John Paul Strong: As owner of Strong Automotive Merchandising, a company that increases traffic up to 1,000% for dealerships, Strong lives by the simple concept that your attitude affects your success. Without a positive mind set he would not have been able to grow the company over the last decade from just 10 to over 80 full-time employees. The rapid growth is thanks to his ability to keep the company on the forefront of technology, market changes and an infectious talent to motivate and keep employees striving to fulfill their potential. His beginnings in direct mail gave him the tools and skills to develop incredibly successful marketing plans. From there he moved on to traditional forms of media and has now mastered the dynamic world of digital and social media advertising. With over 165 dealers to please, Strong takes a hands-on approach and personal attention to detail in all aspects of marketing strategies. His expertise in plan development gives him a keen sense on how to maximize a dealer’s budget and ultimately increase their bottom line. Strong is a passionate speaker in the automotive industry. He has authored two books on creating next day traffic. He graduated from the Executive Education Program at the Harvard Business School. Strong received a B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Montevallo. He lives with his wife and three children in Homewood, Alabama.


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