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Nielsen moves to cast a wider net

The TV viewing habits of family members who are away at college or other schools will be included in the ratings.

October 10, 2006|Lee Margulies | Times Staff Writer

Moving to assuage critics who say the TV ratings don't reflect the watching people do outside their homes, Nielsen Media Research said Monday it will start measuring the viewing habits of college students next year. It's the first time that the ratings firm will include any out-of-home viewing in its national sample.

But the company was careful not to suggest that it had opened the door to measuring TV viewing in bars, airports, hospitals and other public places, as some TV providers have long sought.

What the company will be measuring, Nielsen spokeswoman Laura James said, is "extended home viewing." In other words, the college students whose habits will be tracked will already be members of a Nielsen family -- that is, from a household where meters are installed to track which family members are watching what shows. If the students are at home, their viewing is measured there; when they are living at college, meters will be installed to track what they watch in their dorm room or apartment, just as if they were home but had a separate TV set in their bedroom.

"They are household members; we're just following them to another residence," James said.

Nielsen said the plan, to take effect in time for the important February ratings sweeps, would include not only students at colleges and universities but also those at "trade schools, culinary institutes and other higher educational facilities."

Television executives for years have been pushing Nielsen to expand its measurement pool, arguing that in-home viewing doesn't tell the full ratings story. Higher ratings, of course, would allow the networks to charge higher fees for advertising time.

Nielsen says the cost of providing such data would be prohibitive. Nevertheless, Monday's announcement was seen as a move in the right direction.

"We want full measurement of everyone who is watching television, and this is a significant first step towards achieving that goal," Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting, said in a statement released by Nielsen. "College students are an important audience for Turner and many other programmers. We will now have a more complete record of their viewing in Nielsen's estimates, and I look forward to working with Nielsen to find ways to include viewing across non-traditional television platforms as well."

James said she couldn't say how many people would be covered by the new policy. Whatever the figure, the change is bound to boost ratings for some channels, since whatever the students were previously watching at school went unreported.

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lee.margulies@latimes.com

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