I'm told by David Liroff, VP/CTO at WGBH, that public television stations seem to be slow in installing the new encoders required for Nielsen's new audience meters (alas, my stations included). The result could be a serious apparent shrinkage in the national audience and the loss of important information for local stations. Here's a 6/15/05 alert that David has prepared for the industry, used with permission. --Dennis
In order to measure viewership of the increasing number of broadcast, cable, and satellite channels, as well as viewing of Video on Demand and of digital video recorders, Nielsen is requiring all program distributors to insert codes into their analog and digital transmissions which will be “readable” by Nielsen’s new “Active/Passive” (A/P) meters.
The A/P meters cannot identify which channels are being viewed unless they are encoded. Viewership of channels which are not encoded will be lumped into a single category – “All Other Tuning” – and will not be credited to individual station sources.
With the notable exception of public television stations, the majority of program distributors have purchased (at a cost of approximately $6,000 each) and installed encoders for each of their program services. PBS will begin encoding programs it distributes within the next few months, but the codes those programs will carry will not provide Nielsen with the data necessary to attribute broadcasts (or subsequent DVR or VoD viewings) to individual stations in individual markets.
Deployment of the A/P meters has already begun in television markets across the country. While it will take Nielsen several years to achieve a complete rollout, every installed A/P meter has the potential to reduce reported ratings for unencoded channels.
In the 56 metered television markets, encoders will be required to track viewing for local overnights and for the national metered sample. In the remaining 154 diary markets, encoders will be required to track viewing by those households in each market which are included in the national metered sample.
An encoder is required for each analog and digital program stream. Single channel encoders suitable for analog transmissions may be purchased from:
Norpak Corporation; 10 Hearst Way; Kanata, Ontario; Canada K2L 2P4; 613 592 4164
A multi-channel encoder (a single unit for digital multicasting, manufactured by Wegener) is in beta-testing, and should be available in the near future.
Nielsen projects that reported public television viewing could decline by as much as 30% if PTV stations fail to purchase and install encoders. The impact on all those who use public television's Nielsen ratings as one of a number of key performance metrics is apparent.