Audience Insights:  Nielsen Says BBO Is a Go…Again!

09.23.2021 David Gustafson3 min

Earlier this year, our Audience Insights series focused on an impending Nielsen change that was set to take effect in April for many of the country’s larger TV markets. Then, at the last minute, Nielsen changed course, delaying the integration of broadband-only (BBO) homes into its metered-market TV services until fourth quarter. Just weeks before that revised start date, though, Nielsen hit the pause button one more time – announcing on Sept. 13 that BBO integration in metered markets is being pushed back to January 2022. To help put this latest delay into perspective, we checked in once again with David Gustafson, Cox Media’s Director of Linear & Audience Research.

CM: With all the Nielsen news in recent weeks, it feels like a good starting point would be to review the basics. Can you refresh us again on what BBO homes are and why they’re important?  

DG: Absolutely! I always like to start with a review of how Nielsen has historically defined the Local television universe in each market. Traditionally, three types of homes have been included in that definition. There are Cable homes that receive their TV programming from companies like Cox Communications. Then you have Satellite homes that receive their television service primarily from DIRECTV or Dish. Finally, there are over-the-air homes that do not subscribe to Cable or Satellite services. These homes rely on antennae to receive Local Broadcast stations. In recent years, though, a new type of TV household has emerged and continued to gain momentum. The broadband-only, or BBO, homes do not fit into any of the other three categories. Instead, they rely exclusively on Internet-based streaming services to get TV programming to the set.  

CM: Is it fair to say, then, that BBO homes watch TV differently?    

DG: Basically, yes. When you boil it down, the word “only” is the key to the BBO definition. For Nielsen purposes, homes that stack streaming subscriptions on top of other TV services are not considered to be broadband-only. In other words, Internet-based streaming is the only TV option in a BBO home. And that’s at least part of why Nielsen initially decided to exclude BBO homes from its Local TV ratings services, even as BBO homes began to be rolled into the National ratings service in 2014. At that time, the percentage of BBO homes was relatively low, and the viewing options available in those homes were more limited than they are today.    

CM: Given that context, adding BBO homes to Local TV measurement seems to make some sense. Why has this change proven such a hurdle for Nielsen?    

DG: Great question! The primary challenge as we see it is threefold. First, after years of excluding BBO homes from Local TV measurement, “flipping the switch” to bring those homes into the fold can have a dramatic recalibration effect on market population estimates and DMA rankings. Nielsen attempted to get ahead of this a year ago by releasing official DMA rankings based on the full inclusion of BBO homes – but this led to additional confusion in the marketplace, since BBO homes were not yet factored into the impressions and ratings currency in local markets. This ties into the second part of the challenge, which involves the mechanics of how BBO homes are being integrated from a methodological perspective, especially in the metered markets. Nielsen again attempted to get out in front of this by fully integrating BBO into Local measurement for the nearly two-thirds of markets where Nielsen relies on acquired set-top box data for audience measurement, instead of its own recruited panels and meters. For these former diary markets, the BBO change took effect for January 2021 measurement but was rolled up with a variety of other methodology changes, making the evaluation of BBO impacts more difficult. And for the remaining metered markets, Nielsen has chosen to roll in BBO homes in a way that completely reshapes the contributions of the existing homes in the panel. Essentially, this means the 1,000 Cable and Satellite viewers Nielsen reports today for Network XYZ in the Anytown DMA may not still equal 1,000 tomorrow – regardless of whether any additional viewing is detected in the BBO homes. Finally, when you add in the fact that all of this BBO discussion has been happening against the backdrop of well-publicized challenges Nielsen has had maintaining its existing metered panels, planning and forecasting Local TV campaigns has become a more arduous task for advertisers and media sellers alike.

CM: Wow. As the saying goes, definitely “a lot to unpack” with all this. What are the main takeaways right now for Local TV advertisers who want to use Nielsen data to plan their campaigns?    

DG: That really hinges on knowing what type of Nielsen market you’re in. As we discussed, BBO integration has already happened in markets where Nielsen uses its RPD+ methodology. That includes eight primary DMAs served by Cox Media – Baton Rouge, Ft. Smith, Gainesville, Lafayette (LA), Macon, Omaha, Topeka, and Wichita. These markets will soon have nine months of BBO-inclusive Local data that can be used for planning and estimating. That differs from what is happening in the Local People Meter (LPM) and Set Meter markets, though. There, Nielsen will continue to use the traditional non-BBO definition of the Local TV universe for the remainder of 2021, before shifting to new market definitions that include all BBO homes for January 2022 and beyond. That change will impact another eight DMAs served by Cox Media – Las Vegas, New Orleans, Norfolk, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Providence, San Diego, and Tulsa. To add to the complexity, in two Cox Media markets – Mobile-Pensacola and Tucson – Nielsen uses its Code Reader methodology for Local measurement. As of yet, no timeline has been announced for BBO integration in Code Reader markets.

CM: With all those moving parts, do we have any other resources available to help advertisers navigate?    

DG: Most definitely. We certainly anticipate continuing to provide summary perspective here as part of our monthly Audience Insights series. And, more importantly, our local Cox Media teams in each region are well equipped to help advertisers take a deeper dive into what BBO means for their individual markets.

CM: Great! Thank you again for your time. We look forward to more audience insights next month.

If you have questions or would like more information on Nielsen’s BBO change, please contact us and we’ll connect you to our team of experts. As a reminder, we’ve also created this short video that summarizes these changes:


About the Author

David Gustafson

As Cox Media’s Director of Linear & Audience Research, David plays a key role in the company’s usage and interpretation of TV audience data. With more than two decades of industry experience, David currently is a member of the Nielsen Local Policy Guidelines Committee (PGC) and VAB Measurement Innovation Task Force, as well as client advisor to Comscore. Known as “The Professor,” David’s articles combine his passion for writing with a penchant for concisely explaining complex topics.

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