Nielsen Delays Injection Of Out-Of-Home Viewing Into Overall Ratings Data

Fans in pre-COVID-19 times watch the World Series at an LA restaurant in 2017. TV networks had been looking forward to viewing outside the home being counted by Nielsen, but the ratings company said it is delaying the integration of such viewing into the ratings due to COVID-19. AP/Shutterstock

UPDATED with ViacomCBS response. ViacomCBS joined the chorus of TV networks objecting to Nielsen’s plan to delay plans to include out-of-home viewing in overall ratings reports.

“Nielsen’s abrupt delay of the long-planned integration of OOH viewing into the national TV currency less than two months before it was scheduled to be implemented is unacceptable and unjustifiable,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “ViacomCBS – along with our peers and the VAB – is calling on Nielsen to reverse its decision.”


Nielsen has put a pin in its planned integration of out-of-home viewing into the overall ratings picture, a step that would have provided a boost in the numbers at a time when networks could really use it.

Originally, the measurement firm had said it would start accounting for viewing outside the home this fall, reflecting venues like restaurants, bars, hotels and offices in 2020-21 season numbers. Given how many parts of the countries are in an uncertain state in terms of public spaces due to COVID-19, Nielsen determined it wasn’t the appropriate moment to move forward, according to multiple press reports. It intends to revisit the plan in the first quarter of 2021.

A Nielsen spokesperson did not immediately respond to Deadline’s request for comment.

It is impossible to predict the exact gain that the out-of-home numbers might have contributed, but it’s a sizable number for any sports programming. Given the overall decline in ratings, any extra bit counts. When CBS reported ratings for Super Bowl LIII in 2019, it tacked on 12 million to the total of 112.7 million due to out-of-home, especially given how many viewers of the big game watch at parties. Fox this year added 11 million out of home viewers to the overall tune-in of 113.4 million for the big game.

For smaller telecasts than the Super Bowl, the difference is still meaningful, especially in an industry under serious economic pressure due to the pandemic and the resulting pullback by advertisers. Non-sports programming also has a stake in the viewership calculations. CNBC several years ago dropped Nielsen because it felt it wasn’t adequately capturing where its daytime viewing was occurring, which was mostly in financial workplaces.

According to a report Thursday in Sports Business Journal, some networks expressed frustration with the delay because they had already baked in the added numbers to their assumptions and sales negotiations. Other networks, like ESPN, transact separately on out-of-home and Nielsen has provided tools for that since 2017.

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