Audience Insights: What You Need to Know About Nielsen & BBO (Broadband-Only) Homes

03.01.2021 David Gustafson

Nielsen, the data and analytics company best known for measuring television viewing, is moving forward with plans to integrate broadband-only (BBO) homes into its local TV measurement services throughout 2021. To better understand what the BBO change may mean for advertisers in Cox Media markets, we sat down for a virtual Q&A with David Gustafson, Cox Media’s Director of Linear & Audience Research, to learn more.

CM: Let’s start at the beginning. What are broadband-only (BBO) homes?  

DG: Definitely a good place to start! Over the past several years, the continuing evolution of how TV content is distributed has created additional ways for viewers to consume that content. Essentially, that has spawned a new subset of homes in the marketplace that rely solely on streaming services to get TV programming to their sets. When you boil it down, the word “only” really is the key to the BBO definition. For Nielsen purposes, homes that stack streaming subscriptions on top of existing Cable or Satellite subscriptions – and homes that have over-the-air antennas for receiving Broadcast stations – are not considered to be broadband-only homes. In other words, Internet-based streaming is the only TV option in a BBO home.

CM: So, what is Nielsen doing differently this year in terms of BBO homes?    

DG: Interestingly, BBO homes are not entirely new to Nielsen’s TV audience measurement. Nielsen began including BBO homes in their national TV service in 2014 – but until this year they’ve excluded BBO homes from local measurement services. That’s the gist of the change. Beginning with January 2021 measurement for the RPD+ (or former “diary”) markets and starting with October 2021 measurement for most metered markets, Nielsen is expanding the local TV universe beyond the traditional local-market definition that included only Cable, Satellite, and over-the-air homes.  

CM: How will this BBO change impact local markets?    

DG: The simplest answer is that the pie is getting bigger. Integrating broadband-only homes at the local level significantly increases the overall size of most TV markets, or DMAs. Across the 18 primary DMAs in Cox Media’s TV footprint, Nielsen’s 2021 TV household universe estimates with BBO increased more than 15% compared to 2020’s non-BBO UEs.  

CM: Will that also impact local TV ratings?    

DG: Absolutely. Although the local TV pie is getting bigger, the existing slices likely won’t change very much. Remember that ratings – like penetration figures – are percentages. A rating expresses the number of viewers watching a particular program or network as a percentage of the total population, or universe. While some BBO homes may be able to watch traditional linear TV channels through virtual providers such as Hulu, YouTube TV, and others, all indications point to BBO homes generally watching less linear TV when compared to the Cable, Satellite, and over-the-air homes that had previously defined the local TV universe. As a result, the potential increase in the number of viewers is not expected to be as significant as the population increase in most markets. This is where the math gets really fun. The larger TV universe means that each DMA rating point will represent more viewers – but the same 10,000 viewers you had yesterday before BBO will translate to a lower DMA rating tomorrow after BBO homes are included. That creates a real risk if we focus only on ratings and percentages because it can lead to the misperception of declining viewership, without regard for the impact of the population increase.      

CM: Given that risk, what BBO advice do you have for advertisers?    

DG: I’ve had the chance to discuss that very question with research colleagues throughout Cox Media and with peers across the industry, and we generally reach the same conclusion: Make a first impression with impressions. Local TV’s historical reliance on ratings and GRPs has long complicated transactions because of the need to translate numerators and denominators into percentages. The constant has been and will continue to be the numerator in that equation – that is, the number of viewers, or viewing impressions. Even Nielsen, the company often considered synonymous with TV ratings, has begun to promote impressions as a “great equalizer” that can help ensure all local TV viewers get counted. And focusing on impressions doesn’t just benefit traditional TV campaigns. Impressions create a common link between Cox Media’s TV and TV Everywhere solutions, and impression-based buying will help create a seamless transition to the future evolution of addressable, audience-based TV campaigns. 

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. 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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