Nielsen to Revise 2001 Viewing Data in Light of US Census

20 August 2002

Next week will see the release by Nielsen Media Research of revised viewing data for the 2002/02 period – updated to take account of the 2000 US Census

Significant changes are expected to the viewer numbers previously reported for primetime TV shows, triggering frenzied renegotiation between networks and media-buyers to compensate for the predicted wave of viewer under- and over-deliveries.

The cashbacks will be two-way dependent on the age of viewers, as the 2000 census revealed that Americans between the ages of 2-11 had declined numerically since the last survey in 1990. On the obverse side of the coin, the population in most age groups between 12-34 has risen.

So the revised Nielsen data will show under-delivery among the majority of children’s programming, particularly by specialist cable operators such as Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and much of WB’s business; whereas networks primarily targeting viewers in the 12-34 and 18-34 age groups (Fox, MTV, UPN and WB primetime, for example) will have over-delivered on their audience guarantees.

The holy grail both for advertisers and networks, the 18-49 demographic, has barely been affected by the census-adjusted data, with viewing numbers up only a fraction.

But the phonelines are expected to run hot when the new data is published. Says Fox Broadcasting sales president Jon Nesvig: “We're going to have to look at individual cases and talk with each advertiser and try to come up with a solution. We need to figure out a way to get some value [from advertisers] for the true audience we delivered for each show this past season.”

There is less euphoria on the other side of the fence: “I knew they [Nielsen] were planning to issue new estimates for the 2002-03 season based on the 2000 Census numbers, but not to revise this season’s estimates,” said one top buying executive.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff