Nielsen Is Prepping Networks for Major Changes to ‘Overnight’ Ratings Reporting

New method, which aims to capture out-of-home viewing, slated to start in early October

Nielsen, the TV ratings company whose data has been used as industry currency since the 1950s, has been prepping networks for significant changes in the way it reports “overnight” numbers starting this fall, insiders at two major broadcast networks tell TheWrap.

On Oct. 3, the overnight ratings for primetime TV shows are expected to be sent to networks at 1 p.m. ET the following day, or four and a half hours later than they currently are. (We’ll save you the math: Overnights are currently available around 8:30 a.m. ET.)

The overnight numbers, which are also referred to as “metered-market ratings,” were typically the earliest-available metric for the previous evening’s programming, and a good way to analyze and compare the performance of live events like sports and awards shows. That data set, which  currently measures Nielsen’s panel viewership in 56 major TV markets, will only count 44 markets come October.

Why is all of this happening? Nielsen is planning to add out-of-home viewership to the local-market overnight numbers (not the national ones — at least, not for now) to generate a more accurate estimate of people watching live sports at bars and restaurants, mostly. That’s a significant figure that has mostly been missing from the ratings picture especially for big events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars.

For those big live events, a network generally pays Nielsen extra for special-order “fast official” ratings, which can speed up the process of generating “official” numbers by a few hours. Practically speaking, it generally allows the media to publicly report a more-accurate and often more-flattering viewership number.

“Starting with data of Oct. 3, 2019, local overnight ratings in the 25 local people meters (LPM) + portable people meters (PPM) and 19 set-meter + PPM markets will include out-of-home viewing,” Nielsen told TheWrap in a statement. “In and out-of-home audiences are reported as a single number.”

A Nielsen insider confirmed that the October change should not impact national numbers. Nielsen did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on whether it is working toward including out-of-home viewership into its national ratings figures.

The dozen markets being delayed for the new system are Albuquerque-Santa Fe, Birmingham, Buffalo, Dayton, Ft. Myers-Naples, Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson, Knoxville, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Richmond-Petersburg, and Tulsa, TheWrap has learned. Ratings for those 12 will be reported one full day later.

“Official nationals” — the “final” nationwide TV ratings, so to speak — will still come in at 4 p.m. ET, as usual. For Saturdays and Sundays, the release of that final data set will wait until Tuesday morning, which is also currently the norm.

(Note: Where we use “final” here, we’re referring to Nielsen’s term for its official Live + Same Day ratings data set. Many networks these days are more concerned with numbers that include delayed viewing, or DVR and on-demand tune-in.)

Nielsen’s “fast-affiliate” ratings, which TheWrap reports each weekday, should continue to come in around 11 a.m. ET. Those are not time-zone adjusted for live programming, however, which makes them an unreliable to analyze programming like football games and the Oscars. They’re still good for entertainment programming, or at least they are as valuable as any night-of number is.

These changes will be something between irrelevant and a headache for those interested in regular entertainment programming performance. After all, overnights for ordinary primetime programming — “Modern Family,” for example — will soon be considered too “late” to matter and less comprehensive by a dozen markets. But the output format for the overnight ratings are not user-friendly — overnights don’t include an actual total-viewer tally, which the fast-national and officials do — and by definition are limited to certain geographic markets.

But for the Super Bowl, assuming it’s a halfway decent game, we should probably plan to see a record in the overnight ratings since it gets tons of out-of-home viewing. For that reason alone, the delay in data should be worth the wait to TV networks with live sports rights. Unless Nielsen surprises us by fast-tracking a national OOH-inclusive total-viewer number, the same can’t be said for the final figure we all actually care about.

Tony Maglio

Tony Maglio

TV Editor • tony.maglio@thewrap.com • Twitter: @tonymaglio



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