Will Nielsen Pay The Price For Cable Estimates OK?


By Adam R Jacobson

The rise of the “cord-cutters” is for real.

ESPN wishes it was simply the name of a bad horror film.

In an announcement made Friday (11/4) by Nielsen, the ratings company affirmed that its November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimates were accurate as originally released.

These estimates represent the number of U.S. “Cable Plus” households in which each cable network is received. A Cable Plus household is a multichannel household that receives cable programming from a Wired Cable (traditional cable MSO), Telco or DBS provider.

That’s bad news for not only ESPN, but just about every cable TV network in the U.S.

It also sends a signal to advertisers that those stories of consumers shunning MSOs in favor of OTT services aren’t so “over the top” after all.

The controversy started last Saturday, when word trickled out among cable television executives that the November cable “UEs” looked odd. 

The numbers seemed so amiss that the release sent ESPN and an unnamed second client into an all-out assault of the ratings company.

Industry-wide, the November numbers showed an average dip of 650,000 homes for all cable networks.

But it was ESPN that sounded the alarms, after the November UEs showed ESPN losing 621,000 homes, ESPN2 shedding 607,000 homes and ESPNU minus 674,000 homes, sports journalist Ken Fang reported at AwfulAnnouncing.com.

Nielsen pulled the estimates but did not retract them, as teams of staffers immediately went into investigation mode.

“We take the accuracy of our data very seriously and determined the magnitude of change merited a thorough review of our processes to be certain that these estimates were produced correctly,” Nielsen said.

The company’s determination?

“All the processes that go into the creation of these estimates were done correctly.”

Accordingly, Nielsen says, the November cable UEs were re-released Friday to Nielsen clients and were scheduled to be put into its production systems on Monday (Nov. 7).


How does Nielsen explain the big dip in universe estimates?

“The month-over-month decline in coverage that most cable networks saw was driven primarily by an overall decline of approximately half a percentage point (0.55) in the Cable Plus universe, meaning fewer households are subscribing to cable through the provider types listed above,” Nielsen explains.

The decline was not specific to a network or group of networks, Nielsen added.

This means it was not driven by household changes in tiers or packages.

One result of the extensive week-long investigation by Nielsen staff is the news that the company is “researching” new and emerging technologies and multichannel providers such as “virtual MVPDs.” It will incorporate these households into the Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimate definition “at a future date and in cooperation and agreement with clients.”

Even so, ESPN is less than pleased with Nielsen’s announcement.

In a statement released Friday, the sports and entertainment network said, “This most recent snapshot from Nielsen is a historic anomaly for the industry and inconsistent with much more moderated trends observed by other respected third party analysts. It also does not measure DMVPDs and other new distributors and we hope to work with Nielsen to capture this growing market in future reports.”

The American Cable Association (ACA) had no immediate comment on the matter.