Nielsen Ups its Game With Access to Dish Set-Top Box Data

Photograph by Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

While TV companies are racing to adapt to upheaval in the television market, others are racing to try and accurately measure that change.

TV ratings company Nielsen has cut a deal with Dish Network that could help it solve that problem. The two companies announced on Monday an agreement to share anonymized viewing data from millions of Dish set-top box users so that it can be included in Nielsen’s TV ratings.

This might not seem like a big deal—especially when so many households are cutting the cord and going without cable altogether, in favor of streaming services like Netflix (NFLX). But the arrangement does help Nielsen catch up with some of its competitors when it comes to measuring the size of the existing TV audience accurately.

Much of the local TV information that Nielsen includes in its reports still comes from families who keep paper diaries in which they record their viewing habits, a method that is notoriously unreliable. The company has been trying to modernize its methods because of criticism from its TV and advertising clients that it is behind the times.

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The competitive pressure on Nielsen also got ratcheted up when two of its competitors in the measurement space—Rentrak and comScore—merged in a $770 million deal that was announced last year and closed in February. Rentrak already has deals with a number of cable and satellite companies like Dish to get data from their set-top boxes, and comScore specializes in online measurement.

Nielsen has spent much of the past year trying to convince its clients—which buy and sell billions of dollars worth of TV programs and advertising based on its numbers—that it is adapting to the new marketplace. The company recently introduced what it calls a “total audience metric,” which tracks viewing across video-on-demand services as well as many mobile and streaming services.

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