“It’s Broccoli, Dear!”










This amusing cartoon from the New Yorker, courtesy of Condé Nast, calls to mind what is happening in local TV measurement. The same old spinach is being served up, and it isn’t much of a change or a benefit.

So what is happening with the green vegetable of local TV measurement?

The sample currency in the marketplace – which I will akin to Robert E. Lee when talking of the Union Army, and refer to them as “those sample people”- is talking about increasing the household sample size by a factor of four in selected markets by including set-top boxes. “Those sample people” are claiming they’re responding to the presence of huge instability in their numbers. But how much will this really help?

Not much.

Rentrak’s stability will still be three times greater.

There will still be no ability to report on the cars people drive or the products they use – what Rentrak calls Advanced Demographics.

Rentrak measures more than 20 million TVs. When you translate this into a local market and net it into homes (the standard unit of measure), Rentrak has an average of around 40,000 homes in a market. “Those sample people” have around 400 – if we are generous and include both the national and local services. In a few markets, “the sample people” have announced they will move to 1,600 homes versus Rentrak’s average of 40,000 homes.

What does this look like in terms of simple “bounce” around the numbers? By “bounce,” I mean a statistical measure of two standard errors of 95% around a ratings estimate, or in English, the range in which the actual rating might be reported. The higher the range, the more likely reported ratings will bounce all over the place and advertisers just buy wrong. The chart below shows the ratings bounce in the vertical axis for July 11 for the top 500 programs from St. Louis in the horizontal axis from a high of 10.44 on the left, to a low of .33 on the right, using the average footprints of the two services and a simple standard error calculation.

Rentrak is the green line and “those sample people” are the red line. “The sample people’s” bounce is over 25% (30.3%) at the top-rated shows and at 170% for the lowest-rated programs. Rentrak’s bounce is 4.3% for the top-rated shows and 24% for the lowest-rated shows.

If “those sample people” do increase their footprint to 1,600 homes, their expected bounce is still quite large, at 15% for the top-rated shows, and 70% for the lowest-rated shows. The numbers are graphed below and compared to Rentrak, where stability is still much greater, at a factor of three.

So while there may be some improvement with incorporating what “the sample people” are proposing to do somewhere in the future, they won’t have changed spinach to broccoli. Their numbers will still be highly unstable. Period!

Having 1,600 homes in a market will also not be enough for “those sample people” to report on the cars consumers drive and relate them to TV usage. There just won’t be enough sample to have stable enough numbers – when one intersects product purchase information with ratings, the cells will just be too small for reliability. Given an average monthly purchase incidence of 1% for all cars (according to Polk), even at the high-end of ratings, only .10 of 1% of the population would both be watching the high-rated shows and buying a new car, or 1.6 homes in those people’s proposed footprint¾not enough to report from “those sample people.”

So it sure appears that “those sample people” won’t be giving that much more stability in local markets. They still won’t be able to report on the cars people drive.

Using Rentrak – the “Census Currency” – is the only way to know you are getting broccoli. Otherwise, “I say it’s spinach, and I say to hell with it!”

In case you don’t know, I am Bruce Goerlich, Chief Research Officer at Rentrak, the global standard in movie measurement and your TV Everywhere measurement and research company. I have been in the research end of the marketing business for more than 30 years primarily on the ad agency side, with my last stint prior to Rentrak in the role of President, Strategic Resources Zenith Optimedia North America. Somewhere along the way I morphed from young Turk to old fogey. Now that I have grey hair and am horizontally-challenged, I can speak with some authority on advertising and research issues – which I will do from time-to-time on this blog.


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