Executive Voice

The Impact Of Changes In Nielsen’s Ratings System: What To Expect

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cary Meyers is ESPN’s Senior Vice President of Fan and Media Intelligence. In this role, he and his team are responsible for all multimedia and consumer research functions across the ESPN platform.

This week (Thursday, Oct. 3) marked a systematic change to the way Nielsen measures and reports overnight ratings. Those Nielsen changes significantly affect our approach and as a result, you can expect to see ratings covered differently as well (via press, social media, etc.).

Because of Nielsen’s changes to the new overnight ratings process (outlined below), we feel the new overnights no longer represent a meaningful gauge of overall ratings performance. As a result, ESPN’s plan (and the plan of other networks and leagues we’ve discussed this with) is to primarily focus on releasing National ratings (and not overnight ratings). As is the case with any new system, we plan to monitor and discuss the process with Nielsen and the rest of the industry on an ongoing basis.


As of Oct. 3, Nielsen dramatically changed how it measures audiences in local markets, and what you have known as “overnight ratings” will no longer exist in the form we’ve come to know them. Though Nielsen will still be using preliminary ratings reports, these reports differ in two significant ways:

  • Currently, overnight reports are based on viewership in 56 markets that represent 70% of all US households;
    • Beginning on Oct. 4, metered market reports will reflect only 44 of these 56 DMAs (Designated Market Area).
  • Nielsen typically released overnights at 8:30 a.m. ET;
    • Its new metered market reports won’t be released until 1:30 p.m. (National ratings will continue to be released at 4 p.m.)

The impact of these changes include inaccurate year-to-year overnight ratings comparisons and far less time between reporting of overnights and national ratings. Those are among the main factors in ESPN (and other networks/leagues) determining to focus on National ratings and not overnights.

We know this is a change that will take some getting used to across the industry but we believe it will lead to the most accurate and reliable ratings information for media and marketers to consume.

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