Nielsen Panels

For more than 50 years, Nielsen has provided businesses around the world with critical insight into consumer behavior—and our panels make this possible.

A panel is a group of people that we’ve chosen to represent a larger group of people. Since it’s not feasible to include everyone in a specific geographic area, like a country or city, we use sophisticated sampling and statistics to ensure that the sample we use is representative of the larger population. How do we do this? Nielsen data scientists create smaller groups that mimic the demographics and behavior of the larger overall populations. In that way, we can accurately understand the behavior of a larger population without actually engaging with each and every person in that larger group.

How is panel data used?

We use panel data to understand consumer behavior. Whether it be to know what shows consumers are watching on TV or how much time they’re spending listening to the radio, Nielsen panel data provides an accurate picture of how consumers are engaging with media. For example, the media industry considers the Nielsen TV panel in the U.S. as the gold standard for knowing who’s watching what. In fact, our data is the information that the TV industry uses for buying and selling advertising.

Black family watching TV on the couch

What is representation?

It’s impossible to engage with each and every person about their behavior—that’s where data science comes in.

To start, we use large, statistically reliable data sets for a specific market or area. For example, think U.S. Census data, U.N. population stats for Melbourne, or government-issued population totals for the various suburbs within Shanghai. From there, we use random, probability-based sampling to identify smaller populations of the total. Once we have a smaller dataset, we use statistics and other scientific techniques to ensure that the characteristics of the sample accurately reflect those of the larger population.

Our ability to provide accurate, representative measurement of media consumption behavior cannot be matched by big data sets, phone surveys or data that digital devices collect (i.e., cable and satellite set-top boxes).

Data science & big data

Few people would argue that having less data is better than having more data. But not all data is equal. Every one of us is adding to our digital footprints every hour, and those footprints can help companies create content, advertisements and experiences that are in line with your interests. But those footprints aren’t complete. Think about when you change the channel while you’re watching TV. The set-top box or content provider knows the channel changed and the address for the house that the TV is located in, but it doesn’t know WHO within the home changed the channel.

That’s where Nielsen comes into play particularly for digital measurement. For example, an internet provider knows if an online ad is clicked, but it doesn’t know who clicked it. But with the truth-set data from Nielsen panels as a foundation, we can use sophisticated statistical techniques to gain an accurate representation of the behavior in the larger population.

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