Dear Diary: It’s Time for Political Advertisers to Move Beyond Nielsen Ratings
Actual Viewership and the Political “Map Gap” — a 2016 Problem that Can Be Solved
- Of the 145 “early primary” DMAs where the election will be held before April 1, 2016, 103 (71%) are diary-only Nielsen markets.
- All of Iowa and most of New Hampshire and South Carolina are diary-only Nielsen markets.
- Multi-sourced Deep Root Analytics data enable advertisers to use actual viewership data to target adverting, rather than diary entries.
FIRST, SOME HISTORY. Commercial broadcasting of television in the United States began in 1947.  Just three years later, Nielsen released its first television ratings.  Ever since, Nielsen and TV measurement have been synonymous with one another — the standard of gauging how many people watch every show on TV.
At the time, Nielsen’s measurement methodology was innovative. They recruited respondents by mail and phone and incentivized them to keep a detailed diary of their TV viewing, like this:
And back then, this form of measurement made sense: there were only a few stations for people to watch, and handwritten, self-reported responses were the best way to gather viewership behavior in bulk.
THE PROBLEM. But, this approach creates some methodological issues and potential biases. Respondents are potentially prone to backfill their viewership right before it’s due. They are also capable of lying: who really wants to admit they are watching Real Housewives of New Jersey?
Sixty-five years later, many advertisers still rely on Nielsen to measure what Americans are watching and, thus, what TV inventory they should be purchasing. And Nielsen still relies on diary entries for a majority of its TV viewership data.
Out of the 210 Nielsen media markets, or DMAs (Designated Market Areas), 145 are measured using only diaries.  That means that media buyers rely on data derived from diary entries in nearly 70% of American DMAs — and can have a very real impact on the upcoming presidential election.
But how could these diary-only markets impact the Republican presidential primary?
Of the 145 “early primary” DMAs where the election will be held before April 1, 2016, 103 (71%) are diary-only markets. Among those DMAs are all of Iowa and most New Hampshire and South Carolina, the three earliest primary states. We call this the “Map Gap.”
Take a look at the geographic impact of diary-only DMAs:
That means that presidential advertisers using Nielsen data could end up heavily relying on diary entries to guide the biggest line item in their budgets. Consider that, during the 2012 primary, Republican advertisers aired 108,680 ads on broadcast TV in diary-only markets, according to Kantar CMAG ad occurrence data. That’s 63% of all the ads they aired during the entire primary.
THE DEEP ROOT ANALYTICS APPROACH. At Deep Root Analytics, a predictive media analytics firm, we know there is a better way. Because of cable set-top boxes, we no longer rely on reported data from a small number of individuals. Instead, after a privacy compliant, blind third party match against the voter file, we can see the actual viewership of thousands of anonymous voters that our clients need to reach, like this:
This data is very valuable.
First of all, it is accurate — there is no backfilling and no lying in observed data like this.
Secondly, it comes in great volume. Rather than projecting ratings off of a few hundred diary entries, we project ratings off of millions of rows of actual viewership data.
And, lastly, it is available everywhere — we can (and do!) project ratings data in all 145 early primary DMAs built off of set-top box data, not diary entries.
Millions of dollars will be spent during the upcoming Republican primary. A majority of those dollars will most likely be spent on TV advertising. But how much of it will be spent on TV inventory measured only by diary entries? The technology and data is available to make that number zero.
In 2016, it’s up to each campaign to make sure they’re not buying TV ads like it’s 1950.
Deep Root Analytics leverages media analytics to surface hidden data insights and provides greater efficiency, effectiveness and accountability for media buying decisions. Using proprietary methodology, Deep Root Analytics matches first-party target data to a blended set of large-linked, multi-sourced datasets and makes available a suite of media analytics dashboards and tools, including custom ratings, optimized media buys, ad occurrence evaluation, media mix modeling, and unduplicated reach analysis. For more information, follow @DeepRootX and visit deeprootanalytics.com.