For ratings nerds: a look at the expanded Nielsen ratings panel


TV by the Numbers used to do an annual “What is a TV Rating and Who is it Dating?” post, and this post is a variant on that motivated by a big, recent expansion to Nielsen’s TV ratings panel.

Some explanations on the abbreviations used:

UE (000): UE is short for Universe Estimate (in this case Nielsen’s estimates when it comes to households in the United States with televisions.  Nielsen estimates the size of the TV household universe and then estimates the sizes of various segments (that the advertisers are interested in). Nielsen then attempts to model its actual panel based on its universe estimates.

These estimates are done annually and stay in place for one year. Usually they come out in late August and go into effect in September. Again, these estimates do not change throughout the year. It usually doesn’t change much year to year, for example, from the 2014-15 estimates to the 2015-16 estimates the number of TV households stayed exactly the same.

INTAB: short for “In tabulation” — this is the number of panelists that are included in the ratings calculations. This can vary a little from day to day and recently varied a lot because Nielsen expanded its panel substantially.

So if you see in the table HHLD UE (000) 116400 that just means that Nielsen’s estimate for the current season is that there are 116,400,000 households with televisions in the United States.  If you see HHLD INTAB 38830 that means there were 38,830 households in the tabulation (an 81% increase over a year ago!).

Before clubbing you over the head with the data, I did a year over year point in time snapshot (there was some significant growth to the panel even before the bigger expansion at the end of December). The end point was because it’s the most recent data I have. Comparing it to a year ago was arbitrary.

I should also note that at least Universe Estimate wise, Nielsen slices and dices the world a lot more than what I’m including here. Nielsen also has Universe Estimates based on race (Hispanic, African American, Asian), whether they own pets, whether they have a DVR,  annual household income, whether they are likely to buy a truck, and much more. While I could probably dig up those universe estimates, I sadly don’t have the INTAB data for those demographics.

Finally, the important question here is whether the big expansion has made any difference to the numbers. Since we’re only a week or so into the expansion it may be too early to tell, but early indications are “nope.”  So why bother with expansion? Nielsen is under constant pressure to do things that probably don’t make much sense aside from keeping its customers happy.

You are not Nielsen’s customer, of course, and many of you wonder why there isn’t just a complete census of TV viewers. The big issues are cost (we non-customers aren’t willing to pick up the extra cost!), timeliness of reporting, and privacy concerns (not everyone wants to be tracked!).

A complete census is a very populist viewpoint, and in the absence of that there are cries to just use the set top box data. This is done to some degree (Rentrak for example does sells some set top box data) but the conventional wisdom goes that Nielsen is the better option because it’s more timely (Rentrak isn’t publishing overnight numbers based on its set top box data) and more importantly by segmenting the demographics advertisers are interested in. Nielsen is a better tool for brokering advertising sales, and that’s what it’s really all about. The set top box data doesn’t give advertisers demographic info on who in the households are watching.

Demographic9-Jan-158-Jan-16% Change
HHLD UE (000)1164001164000%
HHLD INTAB214673883081%
P2+ UE (OOO)2960802968300%
P2+ INTAB537869955285%
P18-49 UE (000)1269801268100%
P18-49 INTAB225524067780%
M18-49 UE (000)62990629700%
M18-49 INTAB109631985781%
F18-49 UE (000)63990638400%
F18-49 INTAB115892082080%
P18-34 UE (000)67960681300%
P18-34 INTAB118592117579%
M18-34 UE (000)34040341700%
M18-34 INTAB58441043579%
F18-34 UE (000)33920339600%
F18-34 INTAB60151074079%
P25-54 UE (000)119550118810-1%
P25-54 INTAB219563986882%
M25-54 UE (000)5882058520-1%
M25-54 INTAB105481923782%
F25-54 UE (000)6073060290-1%
F25-54 INTAB114082063181%
P50+ UE (000)1053501067501%
P50+ INTAB193793690690%
P12-17 UE (000)2451024300-1%
P12-17 INTAB4545812279%
P2-11 UE (000)3924038970-1%
P2-11 INTAB73101384789%
P18+ UE (000)2323302335601%
P18+ INTAB419317758385%
P18-24 UE (000)28830289200%
P18-24 INTAB4686826876%
M18-24 UE (000)14580146300%
M18-24 INTAB2341413977%
F18-24 UE (000)14250142900%
F18-24 INTAB2345412976%
P21-49 UE (000)1140301139700%
P21-49 INTAB204843704581%
M21-49 UE (000)56430564700%
M21-49 INTAB99261799781%
F21-49 UE (000)57600575000%
F21-49 INTAB105581904880%
P35-54 UE (000)8042076900-4%
P35-54 INTAB147832696182%
M35-54 UE (000)3936038980-1%
M35-54 INTAB70451294184%
F35-54 UE (000)4106040620-1%
F35-54 INTAB77381402081%
P55+ UE (000)83950858302%
P55+ INTAB152892944793%
M12-17 UE (000)1251012400-1%
M12-17 INTAB2306406776%
F12-17 UE (000)1200011900-1%
F12-17 INTAB2239405581%
P6-11 UE (000)2371023550-1%
P6-11 INTAB4587859787%
P12-34 UE (000)92470924300%
P12-34 INTAB164042929779%
M12-34 UE (000)46550465700%
M12-34 INTAB81501450278%
F12-34 UE (000)45920458600%
F12-34 INTAB82541479579%


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