Deep Inside the Flawed Nielsen Ratings System

Illustration for article titled Deep Inside the Flawed Nielsen Ratings System

It happens to all of us: your new favorite show is doomed from the start, all because of bad Nielsen ratings. But why do we listen to these Nielsen people, anyway? Splitsider explains who they are, and why they're wrong.


Nielsen, it turns out, is a billion-dollar business built to measure the how many people watch not TV shows, but TV ads:

The numbers that networks and advertisers actually use - to sell ads, to set prices, and to decide on the fate of a show - are commercial ratings. In other words, advertisers don't care how many people are watching a show nearly as much as they care how many people are watching their ads. Nielsen provides this number, which takes into account everything from next-day DVR viewing to fast-forwarding through commercials. If every Nielsen Family watched a show the day after it aired but skipped through all its ads, that show would probably be canceled.

Also not included: Hulu and Netflix views. Or On-Demand views through cable providers. It's not that people aren't watching your favorite show; it's that they're not watching the right way.

There's hope, though; Nielsen's stepping up their consideration of digital views, and some competitors are now offering better overall coverage. Too late to save Party Down! But hopefully in time for the next great overlooked show. Check out the full breakdown here. [Splitsider]



Not to mention that those "Nielson families" only represent about 1% of the American population. Now, I may not have ever taken a statistics class, but I'm fairly sure that a 99% extrapolation can't be valid anywhere else, right?

On the one hand, I hate the methodology of the Neilson ratings. After all, bad scheduling on ABC's part forced most viewers of FlashForward to watch the show online or DVR'd, which (as you said) doesn't count. Thus, an amazing show with intelligent writing was canceled after one season due to a flawed ratings system.

On the other hand, I can see their point of view. I've never once DVR'd a show and then stuck around to watch the ads. And since the ads are the TV stations' main source of income, any decent business model would say to ignore DVR views.

The one complaint I have (besides the low sample size that can surely be rectified in a modern world where almost every citizen has some kind of duplex communication from their cable box or satellite service) is that they ignore Hulu as well. It's impossible to skip over ads from Hulu, and since Hulu pays the networks based on their own ad revenue, WHY would Hulu views be ignored in ratings?

I'm done ranting for now. But until FlashForward comes back on the air, I will not be satisfied :P . And, unfortunately, I fear "The Cape" (a newer amazing show) will end up going the route of FlashForward, since it was stupidly scheduled up against Lie to Me, forcing even me to DVR it.

-IMP ;) :)