Missing Males Report Under Fire from US Network Chiefs

27 November 2003

Nielsen Media Research's report on the apparent decline in young men watching television does not seem to have convinced angry TV executives.

Some of the broadcast networks -- whose primetime ratings among advertiser-friendly 18 to 39-year-old males are down nearly 8% since the start of the new season -- continue to believe Nielsen's methodology is largely responsible for the fall-off, despite the research giant's insistence that other factors are at work.

Earlier this week, Nielsen released a 43-page report of its investigation into the missing males. It concluded that its methodology -- and in particular a change in its sample -- accounted for just 40% of the ratings slide [WAMN: 26-Nov-03]. It believes the rise of alternative attractions like the internet are luring young men from TV.

However, NBC research president Alan Wurtzel, who earlier this month blamed the sample change, declared that Nielsen was only "halfway there" with the 40% figure. He insists that problems remain with the ratings methodology.

"What's frustrating," he continued, "is that it took three months for this. And then Nielsen has to present the report as though everything is right with their methodology. They seem to think they have to be regarded as completely infallible."

David F Poltrack, executive vp for research at CBS, was also quick to point out irregularities in Nielsen's research. His chief complaint is that the ratings survey takes no account of the fact that young men watch a lot of TV outside home. In particular, Nielsen counts young people who have left for university as doing no viewing at all.

Another of Poltrack's concerns is that the audience research rejects any household with a TiVo-style personal video recorder, as they are too hard to measure.

Meanwhile, the WB network, which targets a youth audience and has suffered a ratings slump this season, is also upset at Nielsen's findings, though not surprised. Said a spokesman: "We knew we were not going to get any comfort from them."

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff