Nielsen Media Research is reformatting its local-market ratings service and looks to implement the changes by fourth quarter 2003.
Among the bigger changes: reporting and delivering all the broadcast and cable ratings to clients in a single computer file.
Currently, broadcast ratings are reported first, usually a couple of weeks earlier than cable's. Cable executives complain that gives broadcasters an unfair leg up in sales.
"This is long overdue," says Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau President Joe Ostrow. "Buyers will finally get the total TV picture for the market."
Chris Rohrs, head of the Television Bureau of Advertising, which represents broadcasters, concurs, adding: "We welcome a level playing field."
Another big change is the way cable-network ratings will be reported locally.
Nielsen will report two ratings for each network in each market: one for total audience, the other for the audience from just the wired cable systems.
Nielsen makes the distinction because ads inserted by the local cable systems are not carried by the DBS systems that carry those networks.
Broadcasters have been clamoring for the change for some time because, they say, the total-audience rating is misleading for local spots on cable.
TVB's Rohrs is emphatic about finding a way to separate cable viewers from DBS watchers. "It's important for buyers and sellers of TV."
The planned changes were well received by buyers and sellers.
"Getting all that data in one report puts everybody on an equal plane," says Pete Stassi, senior vice president, local broadcast director at PHD, a division of BBDO.
Currently, he notes, he needs to go to a separate Nielsen report, the Galaxy Navigator, to calculate the ratings that cable networks get on cable systems vs. DBS. "It's very costly."
He also wonders whether the cost of Nielsen's local rating service will increase with the new format. For now, he will just have to keep wondering: Nielsen says that's still to be determined.