After reexamining its figures, Nielsen on Friday said that it stood by its estimate for pay-TV subscribers in November, which showed a larger than usual drop.
Nielsen pulled the estimate over the weekend after objections by some of its network clients. Nielsen said it reviewed its process to be certain its estimates were produced correctly. The numbers will go back into Nielsen’s database on Monday.
“The month over month decline in coverage that most cable networks saw was driven primarily by an overall decline of approximately half a percentage point (0.55) in the Cable Plus universe, meaning fewer households are subscribing to pay TV via traditional cable MSOs, telcos or satellite providers,” Nielsen said.
“The decline was not specific to a network or group of networks, meaning, not driven by household changes in tiers or packages. In addition, Nielsen is researching new and emerging technologies and multichannel providers such as 'virtual MVPDs' and will incorporate these households into the Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimate definition at a future date and in cooperation and agreement with our clients,” Nielsen said.
The declining number of pay-TV subs has been a major concern to the industry, and big cable networks including ESPN are affected because subscription fees represent a big part of their revenue.
ESPN noted that the figures affected all cable networks.
“We have raised this issue with Nielsen in light of their demonstrated failures over the years to accurately provide subscriber data. The data does not track our internal analysis nor does it take into account new DMVPD entrants into the market,” ESPN said.
Following Nielsen's statement reaffirming the November figures, ESPN released another statement.
“This most recent snapshot from Nielsen is a historic anomaly for the industry and inconsistent with much more moderated trends observed by other respected third party analysts. It also does not measure DMVPDs and other new distributors and we hope to work with Nielsen to capture this growing market in future reports," ESPN said
According to analyst Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research, the decline reported by Nielsen includes an increase in its overall TV universe that went into effect at the beginning of the season. He put the decline in pay-TV households at 3.2% and said the media decline for individual cable networks were 1.14%.
Wieser, who reported on the figures, then pulled his own report, has republished his analysis.
"If anything, this incident . . . serves to highlight that complaints from media owners or others who would benefit from adjustments to the data regarding Nielsen or any other audience measurement provider should generally be taken with a proverbial grain of salt. In fact, they should often be ignored. By contrast, concerns made by the agencies and advertisers who have to justify budget allocations around the quality of a measurement service provider’s methodology should be viewed as having greater importance," Wieser said.
Networks owned by Time Warner fell by a median of 2.2% in subscribers. 21st Century Fox’s network actually gained subscribers, with a median increase of 0.9%, according to Wieser.
The biggest declines were by Viacom’s CMT, down 8.6%, and Spike, down 6.5%.
Big gainers include Discovery’s Velocity, up 9.5% and Fox’s FXM, up 7.6%.
Among 199 measured networks, 37 had subscriber gains, according to Wieser.
Here is Nielsen’s statement:
Nielsen Statement Regarding November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimates
Last Friday, October 28th, Nielsen released its November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimates. These estimates represent the number of U.S. "Cable Plus" households in which each cable network is received. A Cable Plus household is a multichannel household that receives cable programming from a Wired Cable (i.e. traditional cable MSO), Telco, or DBS provider.
On Sunday, October 30th, out of an abundance of caution, Nielsen temporarily pulled back these estimates from release in order to investigate a larger than usual change as compared to the prior month. We take the accuracy of our data very seriously and determined the magnitude of change merited a thorough review of our processes to be certain that these estimates were produced correctly.
Nielsen has now completed an extensive review and has verified that November estimates were accurate as originally released and that all the processes that go into the creation of these estimates were done correctly. Accordingly, they will be re-released today to our clients and put into our production systems on Monday, November 7th.
The month over month decline in coverage that most cable networks saw was driven primarily by an overall decline of approximately half a percentage point (.55) in the Cable Plus universe, meaning fewer households are subscribing to cable through the provider types listed above.
The decline was not specific to a network or group of networks, meaning, not driven by household changes in tiers or packages. In addition, Nielsen is researching new and emerging technologies and multichannel providers such as “virtual MVPDs” and will incorporate these households into the Cable Network Coverage Area Universe Estimate definition at a future date and in cooperation and agreement with our clients.