Predictions

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
cord cutting, monitoring, subscribers, tv

Companies:
espn, nielsen



Nielsen Forced To Pull Report Offline After It Shows ESPN Losing More Subscribers Than Ever

from the head-firmly-in-the-sand dept

ESPN has been losing hand over fist as consumers shift to streaming alternatives and new "skinny" TV bundles of smaller channels. The company is estimated to have lost roughly 7 million subscribers in just a few years, and a recent survey found that 56% of consumers would drop ESPN in a heartbeat if it meant saving $8 a month on their cable bill (the estimate of how much ESPN costs each subscriber). The losses are largely thanks to ESPN executives failing to see the cord-cutting threat coming. Apparently it's difficult to identify shifting viewership trends with your head buried squarely in the sand.

Fast forward to this week, when viewer-monitoring firm Nielsen released a report stating that ESPN lost more subscribers than ever last quarter. According to the original Nielsen report, ESPN lost 621,000 homes in a single month, as well as losing 607,000 ESPN2 households, and 674,000 ESPNU homes. Interestingly, ESPN was quick to complain that these numbers were in error:
"The Nielsen numbers represent a dramatic, unexplainable variation over prior months’ reporting, affecting 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."
As a result, Nielsen was forced to issue a statement saying it was pulling the findings for review:
"Nielsen is investigating a larger than usual change in the November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Universe Estimates (versus the prior month). We take the accuracy of our data very seriously and are conducting a thorough analysis to determine whether or not there is an issue with these estimates. In the meantime, we have removed the November 2016 Cable Network Coverage Universe Estimates file from the Answers portal and ask clients not to use the numbers that were posted Friday. We are working closely with clients and will alert them on the findings of our internal review."
While it's entirely possible Nielsen did make a mistake, this isn't the first time the company has been willing to withhold data simply because the cable and broadcast industry didn't like what the data indicated. In 2014, Nielsen backed away from including broadband-only household data in the firm's local TV ratings service because broadcasters didn't like what that data said. The company spent many years denying that cord cutting was real, then simply changed the name of cordcutting to "zero TV households" when it was forced to actually ackowledge the trend was real.

Again, Nielsen may have flubbed the data and the estimates could be a little too high (given past trends likely not by much), but it's also entirely possible this is just part of an ongoing attempt by the cable and broadcast industry to shield itself from the reality of evolving markets.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:30pm

    "The data does not track our internal analysis"

    Because people paid to tell you what you want to hear are the best people to tell you the truth.

    o_O

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:41pm

      Re:

      Of course anyone that tries to tell you a "skewed" truth on things you don't want to hear is obviously a subversive trying to ruin you.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 2:09pm

        Re: Re:

        One assumes that Nielsen doesn't track for free, so why pay for internal and external analysis if you just dismiss when the outside group isn't as rosy as the internal group.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 5:20pm

      Re:

      The cable company's have been saying the same thing. That few people are cord cutting. I find that funny. The whole point of Comcast now forcing 1TB Caps on everyone has nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with keeping people paying for their TV service, which never counts against your Data. You want to cut the cord and get your TV stuff someplace else, the CAP is meant to stop this. The more people you have in your house, the faster you will hit this 1TB wall. Now you have to pan another $50 to get Unlimited, if you don't It's so much for Meg until you hit a $200 wall.

      I've been past 1TB for that last couple months with 2 people at my house. The 1TB Cap is a JOKE. Again, nothing to do with fairness. Data costs have dropped and dropped and dropped. It's all about protecting they bottom line.

      I had zero interest in ESPN for all the many years I had Cable TV. It's these sports channels that are the most expensive, and are forced onto everyone. So really the majority of people are subsidizing the few people that watch the sports channels. I heard it was only 4% of the subscribers. Seems low, but why should I be paying for it?
      I was paying for a lot of channels I never watched. They set their channel bundles forcing you to get the expensive one just to get the 1 or 2 channels out want, and most of them you don't. No thanks!!!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bob, 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:35pm

    "Zero TV Household"

    Yes, I know several of those "Zero TV Households" but they have several TV unconnected to cable services.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DV Henkel-Wallace (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:39pm

    Nielsendata are rediculous anyway

    They only measure what their customers want, which means advertisers should be reluctant to use the data when figuring out how much to spend.

    Case in point: my house was chosen as a "Nielsen household". But we don't have TV service (Netflix and youtube seem to be more than enough for us). Since we don't have cable or OTA service, they don't count us...but every couple of months come round to see if they can survey us.

    Either our house is part of their representative sample or it isn't. You can't keep trying to count us but not be willing to take a zero in the dataset.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:39pm

    The figures are just a temporary blip, and nothing that data caps, and bundling cable with the Internet will not fix.

    /The above should be sarcasm, but ....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:43pm

    And nothing if value was lost.

    I don't personally know anyone that actually watches ESPN

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:53pm

    Our reports indicate that 100% of ESPN customers are subscribed to ESPN service, showing a 0% loss over the previous year of 100%.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:54pm

    "There has been a little distress selling on the stock exchange."
    - Thomas W. Lamont, October 29, 1929 (Black Tuesday)

    There has been a little distress with ESPN subscriber data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 2:22pm

    Subversive Propaganda

    "...Nielsen released a report stating that ESPN lost more subscribers than ever last quarter."

    We at ESPN refer to it as "Lügenpresse." We may need to invade, errr, acquire, and punish, uhmm, reeducate Nielsen in order to ensure greater fidelity of their reports with what WE KNOW TO BE REAL TRUTH.

    [Gosh, I miss HTML markup.]

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 4:19pm

      Re: Subversive Propaganda

      Try using markdown (it's the first checkbox below the comment box). It's pretty easy to learn (I did it for Reddit). They even have a link in the comment box options to help you out.

      I wonder if they had someone trying something fancy/malicious with HTML that was breaking the site. That'd definitely be a reason to switch to a simpler markup language.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 6:00pm

      Re: Subversive Propaganda

      Here's a quick primer on the three 'main' markdown formatting things you're likely to use:

      *italics* has one asterisk before and after what you want italicized.

      **bold** has two asterisks.

      [for links, put what you want displayed as the 'link name' here](and then copy the actual link and put it here)

      It took a bit to get used to myself, but the basic stuff is actually fairly easy to remember once you start using it and/or someone links to a cheatsheet like the one below:

      https://github.com/adam-p/markdown-here/wiki/Markdown-Cheatsheet

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anon E. Mous (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 2:23pm

    Nielsen whole model is based on stats for the /Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers so they can sell air time to advertisers in line with the programs they have airing on their respective platforms via the numbers of viewers tuning in (or out)

    The rub is that Nielsen metodolgy is based ondata from uers it picks out to be it's chosen household to send data back to it, sounds simple and fool proof right? Wrong! Even though Nioelsen gets the data there is nothing stopping someone from manipulating the data sent to Nielsen, and you have to remember Nielsen takes that data from it's chosen testers and then uses it to calculate that actual user data into a formula to come up with it's results.

    Now there is known cases were the data some of Nielsen's testers have sent back cause a shows viewership numbers to go up thru manipulation, case in point involving Bubba The Love Sponge Clem's radio show ( link to story below )

    http://wfla.com/2015/10/15/nielsen-asks-for-financial-compensation-after-bubba-clem-admits-ratings- tampering/comment-page-1/

    So how does anyone really know if the supposed ratings really reflect the true numbers Nielsen and the various entities of /Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers base their viewrship programming are accurate? Your average citizen isnt really going to care unless a show they like watching is facing cancellation, otherwise the viewer doesnt give a toot.

    The Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers care about what the numbers are becuase that is what they are selling to the buyers of ad time and what those spots are worth based on the viwership of said program and of course the time it on.

    So There is a little more collusion going on between the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers and Nielsen then what we ar led to believe IMHO. Each has a vested interest in making sure those numbers are high as possible to keep revenue streams as high as possible.

    If one person can manipluate the ratings and Nielsen doesnt catch it, then there is nothing to say that more arent doing this and that puts the ratings Nielsen puts forth in their reports are really a true measure of what real viewership to a program is.

    Of course the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers dont want bad numbers to be reported, it effects the money they get when buyers seek to buy an ad spot on a given shows time spot. No Buyers is going to spend any more money than they have to if a programs numbers are down, they are going to want that spot cheaper since the numbers of viewers/listeners is down.

    The Ad industry spends a ton of money to get their ad at a specific time heard/watched to audiences for what they believe to be fair for the time slot and program, but the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers dont want ad buyers to know how much cord cutting has gutted their viewership.

    The NFL is a prime example of programming that has faced a downturn in viewership, and the price they are getting from ad buyers is still high but no where near as high as it once was and is still falling due to declining viewership.

    So am I suprissed that the Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers are putting pressure on keeping negative information on viewership/ subscriber loss to a minimum, not at all.

    The new era of ways that people can get the various forms of media and the advances in those platforms are the furture, the /Networks/Cable/PayTV/Satellite providers/ Music and movie industry are loathe to give us even a nicel of the ways they have had control and have been able to wring every nickel they can while they can and will do what ever they can to keep things staus quo

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 5:29pm

      Re:

      All the Cable and Satellite Boxes, Tivo are sending Data back on what is being watched! Not everyone has these things, so it's not foolproof. So you're filling out a log book on what is being watched.

      What little football I would watch OTA, like the SF 49'er's. I just refuse to watch any of it. After the whole knee thing during the national anthem. I have no respect for those people. If I went to a live game and saw that, I'd walk out! I wouldn't care if it was a High School game.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    freakanatcha (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 3:01pm

    ESPN

    I'm no expert, but I don't believe I would have committed to pay billion$ for sports rights, knowing my fate rested in the hands of companies like Comcast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 3:35pm

    I remember reading here that ratings and viewership numbers were all smoke. There is a drop in account subscription for ESPN but that is because you can share ESPN relatively easy compared to other channels.I dont have TV subscription, but I can watch it easily through sharing with someone that does.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 2 Nov 2016 @ 3:53pm

    Trump Will Build A Wall To Keep Out The Cord-Cutters ...

    ... and make them pay for it.

    Vote Trump! And help make TV great again!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 5:11pm

    There went their advertising revenue

    If you can't guarantee viewership due to faulty data, what can you charge?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2016 @ 4:55am

    If the complaint is the numbers are missing services like sling TV, then it's a fair comment (personally, I signed up for sling specifically to get ESPN for sports after the cable company wouldn't bring service out)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2016 @ 9:02am

    I would gladly pay ESPN 8 bucks a month to not pay 80 bucks to the cable company if they gave me that option.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2016 @ 10:15am

    deep thoughts

    -when the dust settles, TV is just entertainment-get over it

    -who pays Nielson?

    -a la carte here we come

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.