Nielsen Study Shows Viewer Decline in May Sweeps

DVR-use was a factor but not the main reason for the drop

According to a Nielsen study, the number of homes tuning in to TV during the May sweep was down 3.5% from May 2006, including a more than 5% drop in top market New York.

The study, sent to Nielsen clients on Friday, concluded that, while use of digital-video recorders (DVR) may have contributed to the decline, no one factor could be fingered. A possible blue-screen viewing glitch, along with weather and programming changes, also may have factored in.

Nielsen's survey of its metered-market households found that the number of households with DVRs increased from 7% in May 2006 to 17% in May 2007—a contributing factor to the viewership decline but apparently not the main reason for the drop.

When DVR usage was added to the tune-in figure, Nielsen said, the drop was 2.4%, and households without the digital recorders showed similar rates of decline to those with them.

Nielsen also said the drop was not due to sample turnover or to DVD or video game usage, which was consistent year-to-year.

Nor was it across the board. The biggest May decline was in Houston, where homes using TV in May dropped 8.5%. Philadelphia was second, down 7.1%. Rounding out the top decliners were Salt Lake City (-5.8%); Milwaukee, (-5.7%); Providence-New Bedford, R.I., (-5.6%); West Palm Beach-Fort Pierce, Fla., (-5.6%); New York (-5.2%); Louisville (-4.9%); Indianapolis (-4.6%); San Francisco-San Jose (-4.3%); Washington (-4.1%); and Dallas-Fort Worth (-4.1%).

There were also a dozen or so markets that were up slightly, though none more than a little over 3%. 

Baltimore saw the biggest increase, up 3.3%, followed by Pittsburgh, up 3.2%. Rounding out the gainers of at least 1% were Greenville (+2.9%); Seattle-Tacoma (+2.7%); Norfolk-Portsmouth (+1.9%); Greensboro (+1.1%); and Albuquerque-Santa Fe (+1%). 

The report was issued in response to client requests for more information on viewing trends.