There have always been separate local and national TV samples in television measurement—whether from Nielsen, Arbitron, or comScore. And, while the results of the two samples differed—weight-averaging local Nielsen NSI ratings don’t usually match national Nielsen NTI ratings—the industry accepted the separation of the two samples. Audience targeting is a powerful tool, but while its past has been siloed, its future must leverage local data into national.
Behind the Divide
So, you might be thinking: If the future is combined data, why the separation to begin with? The reasoning is baked into the history of television measurement. Back in the 1950s, radio measurement was fitted to the new technology of television. “Local samples were developed in the 1950s to serve a specific need, namely to measure 200+ individual markets in an affordable way (via paper diaries) as TV spread across the nation,” explains Tim Brooks, author and television historian. To fully compete with Arbitron, Nielsen launched a national sample of household meters, a more expensive venture than diaries (which were still used to supply national demographics), according to Brooks. As the technology advanced, people meters were introduced in 1987.
“All Purchases Are Local”
While this data siloing may be understandable from a historical perspective, nowadays, with 24-hour programming cycles and technology that enables census-level data and hyperlocal personalized programming, the current split seems both quaint and a bit problematic.
According to a recent piece in AdExchanger, there’s a movement to utilize a range of data sets from various sources such as TV, VOD, DVR, and digital in linear and addressable advertising. Kristin Dolan, Founder and CEO, 605, is quoted saying, “Insights can be used for media optimization, but also establishing a viewership profile where even if linear viewing is down…they’re [still] consuming your brand on digital and VOD.”
The use of local data to delve more deeply into market preferences will enable national advertisers to craft campaigns according to stable segmentations. Brent McGoldrick, CEO, Deep Root Analytics, advocates “using local data whenever possible because it is closer to where the consumer lives and behaves. The famous phrase ‘all politics is local’ could just as easily apply to ‘all purchases are local.'”
Modern TV Data Family
It’s only a matter of time before Internet Protocol data will be the norm and the siloes between local and national merge, enabling hyperlocal insights into national campaigns. Until then, the merging of local with national data will enable greater insights into consumer behavior.
It won’t be easy. Nielsen local data in TV measurement is collected using three methodologies: people meters, household meters, and diaries. Some smaller markets are still diary-only, and national TV has an entirely separate sample composed of people meters.
Measurement protocol also differs. Jane Clarke, CEO, Managing Director, CIMM, cites an example, “Local TV uses quarter-hour ratings and national TV average-minute ratings. If we had larger census-type data sets from either STBs or Smart TVs, this would enable us to use the same data for both national and local TV and cross-media buying. The distinction that has existed is only due to the limitation of samples,” she adds.
But some companies are creating solutions. Jeffrey Boehme, SVP Television Research, comScore, explains, “The use of local data rolled up to inform national targeting is already underway. We call this ‘nationalizing our local markets’ (versus ‘localizing the national’ which is, unfortunately, the only time an agency has to consider local markets). Because viewership patterns, demographics, and cultural nuances can vary significantly market-to-market, they need to be factored into how a national buy is built.”