The National Association of Broadcasters has taken its complaints against Nielsen's calculation of digitally unready households directly to the company's Chairman, David Calhoun.
In a letter to David Calhoun, NAB President David Rehr "respectfully disagreed" with both Nielsen's numbers and how they arrived at them, calling them unfair and misleading. Nielsen stood by its numbers as the best gauge around of DTV-readiness.
Nielsen has been releasing periodic updates on its survey of households it considers completely unready for digital, which by its reckoning means that they do not have cable, satellite or telco TV; have only analog TV sets, and don't have any of those hooked up yet to a converter box that would allow them to receive a digital signal.
The most recent accounting was about 4.5 million., or about 3.9% of TV households, unready. That figure has been steadily declining, but was used as a major talking point in Congress during the debate that ultimately resulted in the FCC moving the DTV hard date to June 12.
Rehr took issue with the classification of completely unready households that have bought boxes by hadn't hooked them up yet, or homes that have a converter box coupon but haven't redeemed it, or are waiting for their application to be processed--the government is only now getting folks off a 4 million-plus waiting list.
"While these households may be technically unready in the strictest sense," wrote Rehr, "it is unfair and misleading to classify them as 'completely unready,' especially those that have already purchased converter boxes. This methodology and classification overstates the number of truly unprepared households, and given the weight and widespread dissemination of Nielsen research, these reports can contribute to an unnecessary level of concern that the transition is not going well among members of Congress and regulators at the Federal Communications Commission."
Rehr urged Nielsen to change the classifications, or at least draw a distinction between households that have neither coupons nor boxes and those who just haven't redeemed the coupons or hooked up the converters yet.
Nielsen countered that it has not been misleading anyone and that its estimate is the best one out there on how ready the country is for the digital transition.
“We have been very clear about what our readiness updates include,” said Nielsen spokeswoman Anne Elliott in response to the letter. “We are reporting on whether people can actually receive a digital signal, not whether they are preparing to receive a digital signal. These estimates are based on actual visits to the homes of the people in our sample. As we've reported, there has been a steady decline in unready households in the ten months that we have been reporting this data. “
“Throughout this process we have been working with federal legislators, regulators, clients, community organizations and trade associations to brief them on the trends we have observed. We have met several times with the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), which is overseeing the digital transition coupon program, to give them in-depth analysis of our data and we are confident that our reports are the best available measure of the progress that American households are making in preparation for the digital transition.”
Nielsen’s survey numbers are based on field staffers in 35,000-plus sample homes (all of its metered households) identifying equipment.
Rehr’s letter in its entirety is reprinted below:
Chairman and CEO
Nielsen Media Research
New York NY 10003
Dear Mr. Calhoun:
On behalf of America’s television and radio broadcasters, thank you for your partnership and work on the digital television (DTV) transition. Our industry has dedicated more than $1.2 billion to educate consumers about this transition – on top of $5 billion of infrastructure upgrades in the last decade. The Nielsen Company’s research is a crucial element of our industry’s ability to measure viewership.
However, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) respectfully disagrees with your assessment of and methodology surrounding your Digital Television Transition: Update on Digital Readiness of U.S. Households reports distributed each month.
These reports show a stunning increase in action taken to upgrade to digital by over-the-air households, from 9.8 percent “completely unready” last May to 3.9 percent “completely unready” in March 2009.
However, your reports classify as “completely unready” television households that have purchased converter boxes but not yet hooked them up, and households that have a converter box coupon they have not yet redeemed or have applied for a coupon but are waiting for it to arrive. NAB research shows that nearly 40 percent of television households that have purchased converter boxes have not yet hooked them up – a significant number considering that 25,066,732 converter box coupons have thus far been redeemed. Meanwhile, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, nearly 8 million converter box coupons remain “active,” which means households have received the coupons but have not yet used them to purchase converter boxes.
While these households may be technically unready in the strictest sense, it is unfair and misleading to classify them as “completely unready,” especially those that have already purchased converter boxes. This methodology and classification overstates the number of truly unprepared households, and given the weight and widespread dissemination of Nielsen research, these reports can contribute to an unnecessary level of concern that the transition is not going well among members of Congress and regulators at the Federal Communications Commission.
We urge you to change the classifications used in your research, or to at least distinguish between households that neither have coupons nor boxes – the ones we truly need to focus on – and those that have unused coupons and unconnected converter boxes.
We appreciate your time and look forward to working with you in the DTV Transition Coalition, and together with local television stations, to make sure the transition goes smoothly for our viewers all across America.
David K. Rehr
President and CEO