Nielsen Media Research, once one of the largest media research companies in the world, began as a division of ACNielsen, a marketing research firm. In 1996, Nielsen Media Research was split off into an independent company and in 1999, was purchased by the Dutch conglomerate VNU. In 2001, VNU also purchased ACNielsen, thereby bringing both companies under the same corporate umbrella. VNU was reorganized and renamed the Nielsen Company in 2007.
The Nielsen TV Ratings have been produced in the USA since the 1950s and statistically measure which programs are watched by different segments of the population. The most well-known portion is the "diary". During the 4 sweeps months of February, May, July and November, Nielsen interviewers in Oldsmar, Florida and Radcliff, Kentucky ask homes to participate in filling out a diary of the programs watched in their home for a one week period.
By 1983, Nielsen was dissatisfied with the diary method as national measurement tool. Stations complaining that the system was inaccurate lead to the cable study known as CAMS (Cable Audience Methodological Study), which proved claims to be true. Though they hadn’t agreed on a replacement, they were convinced that it was no longer adequate to measure new television environments due to dramatic media changes. Finally in 1986, Nielson developed an electronic meter, People Meter, to solve the problem. They were convinced their new method was efficient but still weren’t sure whether they would fully depend on the people meter measurement alone or use the people meter sample in a fashion similar to their previous diary method as an addition to the household meter sample to produce viewers per household. Ultimately, CONTAM validation studies helped Nielsen decide they should fully incorporate the full people meter service and leave the diary behind.
The Nielsen sample included roughly 1,700 audimeter homes and rotating board of nearly 850 diary respondents, by the early 1980s. Nielsen launched its Nielsen Homevideo Index (NHI) in 1980 to measure cable, pay cable, and VCRs, and the NHI began offering daily cable ratings in 1982. Nielsen’s continued to advance with steady changes into the mid 2000s (decade). Along with changing their counting methods, Nielsen also started emphasizing their sample in 2003 in reaction to census shifts and requests from some industry sectors. Nielsen’s automated Local People Meter (LPM) technology was introduced in New York and Los Angeles. The LPM improved the method of measurement from active and diary-based to passive and meter-monitored. More importantly, the LPM provides accurate measurements to particular local markets, verse a nation wide sample from the People meter. While diary-based surveys concentrated on quarterly “sweeps” periods, the industry has been pushed towards year-round measurement, due to the automated LPM system.
Recently, Nielsen announced the launch of its A2M2 project that would measure television viewing in and out of the home.
Nielsen Media Research is a sister company to Nielsen NetRatings, which measures Internet and digital media audiences through a telephone and internet survey, and Nielsen BuzzMetrics, which measures Consumer-Generated Media.
Nielsen also conducts market research for the film industry through National Research Group (NRG).
Read more about this topic: Nielsen Media Research
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