How do they know how many viewers watch certain shows?

Discussion in 'TV Shows' started by LanieParker, May 7, 2004.

  1. LanieParker

    LanieParker Supporting Actor

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    I'm curious how the networks know who is watching and how many. I mean they give report these numbers from somewhere, right? So how do they know? Do people write, email, call in to let them know they watched?
     
  2. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    Networks and advertisers primarily get their numbers from A.C. Nielson Co. They have a two-pronged process - an electronic "people meter" (used for getting overnight numbers in larger markets) and diaries kept by people across the country. The sample is small relative to the population but generally considered demographically representative.

    During "sweeps", Nielson uses more diaries, to get a more accurate picture for local communities. In general, the year-round numbers do an okay job of describing what the country as a whole watches, and some of the larger cities, but they need a larger sample to report on what, say, the Bangor, ME, area watches.
     
  3. todd s

    todd s Lead Actor

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    I understand how the Nielson's work. But, I have always wondered how accurate it really it is.
     
  4. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    That's going to be an issue with any sampling-based system, and the Nielsons aren't like exit polls where you can actually find out how they compare to the population in general. The current opinion in the industry seems to be that they're acceptable, though they could be much better - the problem being that nobody has really solid ideas to improve the system.

    What everyone in the business would like is access to data from cable/satellite receivers and DVRs (although probably less so with those - those are the people you know aren't watching the commercials), but there's strong resistance. Many people feel that if the functionality is there, it will be used whether they give their permission or not, and are nervous about stuff like "Mike Hollister watched the Playboy Channel from 8:00pm-9:30pm" being stored in a computer somewhere.
     
  5. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    What Jason said.

    Plus Nielson has the ability to create more accurate information—even without using cable/satellite data. It will just cost more money.

    Since the numbers are considered accurate enough for the networks to charge their advertisers, no one (the networks and advertisers) is interested in paying Nielson more money to be more accurate. And for sure, as long as Nielson has the lion’s share of the market, they have no interest in spending more to make their numbers more accurate (they would get no more money for better numbers).

    There is some thought that the sweeps will become (and perhaps have already become) less important.

    Some subscription-only companies like Showtime or HBO, don’t really care about traditional ratings, because they have an entirely different economic model than the networks. Since they don’t sell time to advertisers, how many people watch a show does not matter. It only matters if the show will help attract and retain subscription customers.
     
  6. Wayne Bundrick

    Wayne Bundrick Cinematographer

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    I know how Nielsen diaries are "graded", and I see a huge flaw in it. Nielsen viewers are asked to write the channel number, channel name or callsign, and the name of the program they watched. They're supposed to keep up with the diary while they are watching, but often they ignore it and will fill out the diary all at once at the end of the week just before the drop it in the mailbox to send back to Nielsen. So mistakes will be made.

    For example the viewer may write "Friends" for the name of the program but instead of NBC he writes the channel number and callsign of the ABC station. How does Nielsen score this inconsistency? They have a 2-of-3 rule. If none of it makes sense, then they just reject that particular entry in the diary. But if any two of the channel number, channel name/callsign, or program name match each other, then the two get the points and the third piece of information is discarded. In this example, Nielsen ignores the name of the program "Friends" and ABC gets some undeserved ratings points.

    Do you think that if a viewer says he watched Friends, then it's possible he didn't watch Friends and instead watched whatever throwaway show was on ABC? Nielsen thinks it is more likely than the viewer misremembering the channel it was on. I think it's appalling that Nielsen would be so quick to disregard what may be the only accurate information provided by the viewer.

    How can Nielsen improve their accuracy? I've got a simple solution. They can send a TV Guide and a pack of highlighter pens to each Nielsen family and ask them to highlight the shows they watch. This transforms a fill-in-the-blank test into a multiple-choice test. It wouldn't cost much more, certainly not as much as electronic meters.

    But I don't think it would make a big difference. More accurate ratings measurements aren't going to prevent good shows from being cancelled and stupid shows from being renewed.
     
  7. Jeff Jacobson

    Jeff Jacobson Cinematographer

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    But sometimes the TV Guide listings are inaccurate.
     
  8. Wayne Bundrick

    Wayne Bundrick Cinematographer

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    I think the listings are inaccurate less often than a person of average intelligence trying to remember on a Friday what he watched last Saturday, and which of 200+ channel numbers it was on, and the name of the channel.
     

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