Nielsen Plays Catch-Up as Streaming Era Wreaks Havoc on TV Raters

By EMILY STEELFEB. 2, 2016 / Photo Credit: Kevin Michael Briggs for The New York Times

Dennis Cheatham said he felt as if he were receiving a message from the past last May when a package arrived in the mail from Nielsen asking him to participate in the survey that for decades has detailed the television viewing habits of Americans.

He was eager to take part, but quickly ran into a problem. Mr. Cheatham’s family canceled its satellite subscription about five years ago, and the roughly 20-page timetable diary Nielsen provided for him to record his family’s viewing made no room to log the hours he, his wife and two children spent streaming shows on digital outlets like Netflix.

“I just kind of shoved it in there and wrote Netflix wherever I could,” said Mr. Cheatham, 40, a professor of graphic design at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “Is Nielsen not paying attention to technology? Don’t they notice that something has changed?”

Mr. Cheatham is not the only one asking that question.

Nielsen, the 93-year-old company that has long operated an effective monopoly over television ratings in the United States, is facing blistering criticism from TV and advertising executives who see it as a relic of television’s rabbit-ears past as the digital revolution transforms how people consume entertainment. New competition — notably the $768 million merger this week of the media measurement companies comScore andRentrak — is forcing Nielsen to evolve.

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