Nielsen Media Research remains convinced that young American males are watching less TV after a detailed study into the puzzling decline in broadcast network audiences.

The research giant this week released a 43-page report into the missing males mystery, arguing that changes in its methodology account for less than half the fall-off.

The controversy began in the spring, when Nielsen ratings for the broadcast networks started showing a surprisingly high slide in prime-time viewing by 18 to 34-year-old males. TV executives -- mindful that this demographic is highly prized by advertisers -- began to panic when the decline continued into the new season.

Broadcasters initially blamed Nielsen's data. The research group, however, stood by its figures and pointed to the rise of alternative attractions such as the internet and DVDs. Other hypotheses include the presence of many young men in Iraq and the networks' failure to screen male-friendly programming, though NBC has argued that changes in the ratings sample are to blame [WAMN: 12-Nov-03].

Nielsen's detailed study of its data concludes that methodology changes account for about 40% of the decline in young male viewing. TV executives are still examining the findings, though media agencies seem supportive.

"Nielsen has done a terrific job with this and put a lot of resources against it," declared Jon Swallen, senior vp and director for media knowledge at Universal McCann in New York. "It's very acceptable to me."

Latest figures show that prime-time viewing by 18 to 34-year-old men between the start of the season in September and November 16 dropped 7.7% year-on-year. Intriguingly, however, there is no sign of a decline at ad-funded cable networks such as FX and MTV.

Nielsen chief research officer Paul Donato said he hoped the new study would "help clients understand what the potential problems are." He added that the research titan would continue to test the issues affecting young male viewing.

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