Epilogue: The Week The Ratings Died

It’s been more than a week since the media world went four days without ratings. Despite the dire predictions of eathquakes, economic failure and widespread pandemics, the world is still here.

OK, we did have a little pandemic, but that was just a coincidence, right?

Turns out that Nielsen’s crisis had less in common with a 24-like conspiracy and more in common with a House-like cascading diagnosis. That is, the same unlikely series of events that make planes fall out of the sky and nuclear reactors fail haunted Nielsen — fortunately with much less devasting results

A firmware problem which impacted Nielsen’s data collection servers caused peoplemeter panel data to pile up. Which overwhelmed the systems created to collect and process these data — reducing operations to a snail-like speeds. Which meant Nielsen was trying to catch up for lost time at a fraction of their normal pace.

Here’s the official report from Nielsen’s Mitchell Habib, President of IT resources at Nielsen’s Global Business Services unit:

We have completed the root cause analysis of this past weekend’s server issues and determined that
the initial firmware defect reported to you earlier this week was the catalyst for the downstream delivery

That initial defect impacted the primary collections servers which act as the gateway to transmit
the events tracked in each of our panel homes. Once the initial defect was understood, the team (which
included resources from our engineering function and the vendor) quickly rectified the issue and restarted the collection process.

Unfortunately, this delay led to a subsequent failure in the process resulting from an additional manufacturer defect that triggered a system utility which rendered our process unusable. Again, once the issue was understood, the teams were able to rectify the failure and restore the system to normal operation.

The final delay in our release was associated with our Measurement Science team’s taking additional precautions to ensure that the data met our high standards for quality.

Habib says Nielsen has completed an analysis of the incident and “steps have been taken to prevent this issue from recurring. A review of response and recovery actions will be conducted this week to evaluate the process and identify opportunities for improvement.”

See also: “Ratings Snafu,” TVByTheNumbers, TVRD.org

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