Teresa Ovalle

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Nielsen Ratings

on April 7, 2014

In my house, the TV channel is usually glued to FOX News. It’s my husband’s favorite background noise. We do not watch much regular TV, but we do enjoy watching our favorite shows via DVDs. We’re always at least one season behind, which can be frustrating, but it’s always worth not having to watch the commercials. Neither of us enjoys commercials.

I recently read an article about the Nielsen ratings and learned that, “TV ratings don’t just measure how many people watch a TV show, they measure how many people watch the ads in TV shows.” (Engler, pg. 3) I wasn’t sure how the ratings worked, but I did not realize that Nielsen was monitoring the commercials and not the actual shows. I found this very interesting. Especially considering DVR and online viewing is so popular today.

Leichtman Research Group stated in a 2010 press release that 40 percent of U.S. TV households use a DVR device. That’s a lot of people skipping commercials. So if the Nielsen rating system samples TV households across the nation by monitoring commercials, how is that an accurate system?

Because of the DVR usage increase, Nielsen changed its system to include DVR usage (Engler, pg. 3). From their monitoring system they receive a break down as follows (pulled directly from the article):

Live – This measures how man people watched a show live, not recorded. When you pause a show via DVR for 25 seconds or more, you’re kicked out of the “live” category. (pg. 3)

Live + Same – This is how many people watched a show live or via DVR on the same day the show aired (pg. 3)

Live + 7 – This is how many people watched a show live or via DVR in the seven days following the show’s broadcast. (pg. 4)

C3 – This is a measure of the commercials watched both live and within three days via DVR playback. It’s the metric under which much of prime-time advertising is bought and sold. (pg. 4)

Nielsen also monitors online viewing. It uses the categories: TV shoes that stream with ads in them, TV shows that are sold online, and illegal downloads (anti-piracy groups track this).

Nielsen uses sampling to track TV ratings, whereas online consumption is tracked via “actual” downloads. “Nielsen look at a sample of households around the United States, and from that sample they make a statistical estimate about what everyone else is watching.” (Engler, pg. 5) This seems to cause angst for some viewers whose shows get cancelled.

Engler goes on to say that a showing being cancelled is, “… endemic to all entertainment businesses. Most movies aren’t successful, most books don’t become best-sellers, etc.” (pg. 7) That is a good point. Although Nielsen tries to capture all the data they can to ensure their ratings are accurate, it’s up the number of viewers that watch the shows. If the numbers are not there, it’s likely the show will be cancelled.

Another interesting note that Engler shares is that Nielsen listens to what’s being said about different TV shows online. If the shows are popular, people are talking about them. If the shows are not, people talk less about them. Engler states, “Based on the consensus of viewer opinions I read online, that’s just what I would have expected.” (pg. 7)