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April 16 2009

Save our show--by not watching it on TV. Not really a Dollhouse article, but might be useful perspective for those of us stumping for renewal. Plus the headline picture is of Eliza--always eye-catching.

Stands to reason, after all, that if your friends don't have Nielsen boxes, it doesn't do a bit of good if they watch on TV, but their web numbers do count.

Totally true.

Great article.

It's been an odd journey watching television viewing change with the times. I'm still waiting for a direct to DVD show, though.
Of course if they have DVRs they should watch it on their DVR the same day then rewatch online ;). Not sure if this link will stay, its a little light for the front page.
It'd be interesting to know how advertisers feel about this. If the goal is to drive live viewers to the internet, then none of those eyes see the ads on tv, whether they count or not. Things are steadily changing and they'll have to reevaluate soon.
This provides a great perspective on nielsen. I really hope that they read this article.
Great article!!! I think we should designate a specific day each week to rewatch the previous week's episode of Dollhouse on hulu.
Thanks for posting, I found this article really interesting because I'd always wondered how networks measured show ratings. I actually had no idea that it was just extrapolated from a small sample.
That's not exactly true. Online, itunes and that kind of think don't help much. Wanna save a show?

1 - Buy the DVDs;
2 - Watch it LIVE!
But rikardo, as the article points out, unless you're a Nielson household, it does not matter what you watch live. At least if you watch it online, you're counted, even if it's at a seriously discounted rate.
I'm totally down IMMORTAL.

Buying the DVDs doesn't always help either, because usually a show's fate is already sealed by then.
Rikardo, Fox can't tell what my TV is doing. They can, however, tell when I stream the show on Hulu. (Whether they do or not is a different topic.) So, how does watching live help the show?
I had no idea there were so few Nielsen boxes! It's infuriating that so few voters have the say in what gets aired. Why can't they put one in every TV? Maybe that's a dumb question but what do I know. :)
If Neilsen boxes are supposed to be a mathematical sample that accurately depicts how many people are watching any given programme, shouldn't less people watching live mean less Neilsen people watching?

I didn't think so. That's why it makes no sense to me.

Doesn't matter in my case, anyway. I can't get Hulu.
I think I'm gonna to my campus library on a Saturday I put Dollhouse through HULU on all the computers. Hm... That should be fun.
I don't want to watch a TV show on my computer screen. I want to watch on my big ole fatty TV screen, slumped out on my couch! I like watching my TV shows on my TV. I don't have a Nielsen box, and I have dial-up. So watching stuff, any stuff online is never going to happen. Put the stuff on TV so I can watch, and I swear I will watch the first showing. And if I'm not gonna be there the night it shows, I record it on my VHS. That's right, my VHS. Suck it online!! (Yes I understand the irony of posting this online).

[ edited by boatierra on 2009-04-16 22:09 ]

[ edited by boatierra on 2009-04-16 22:10 ]
Ok so.. being that I can't 'edit' yet and I'm also a complete dumbass, I'm gonna try that sentence again:

Me go to campus library. Me put Dollhouse on all computers. Me feel accomplished.
I like Hulu. I only wish Hulu had set amounts of time for commercials, so my friend and I can watch without one of us having to pause after a 15 second commercial because the other is going through a 30 second one. I don't care what commercials I'm watching, really (hell, sometimes I even thumbs-up the entertaining ones) -- I just want to be able to watch the show without having to watch the time.
Zeitgeist, I'm pretty sure DVR viewings are only counted if you have a nielsen box as well.
I watch it live, then watch online at least 3/4 times, so I think I'm good :)
I DVR Dollhouse, Chuck, and Castle. I also view the shows online just in case it helps. I usually just let them run in one browser window while I do other things (unless I want to watch them again...)

With all the talk about Dollhouse possibly not lasting long, I've been running the show from the Fox site and then again from Hulu in case anybody is counting. I figured it doesn't hurt and may actually help somehow...
According to, "Hulu does not participate in Nielsen’s online viewership tracking, but FOX does." It also says that you don't need a Nielsen box for your DVR viewings to count.
How can they track DVR numbers, but not numbers from shows watched live with a digital box?
I think that blog has been said to be wrong.

I only wish Hulu had set amounts of time for commercials, so my friend and I can watch without one of us having to pause after a 15 second commercial because the other is going through a 30 second one.

Sometimes you get the option to watch one long one at the beginning and nothing in the middle. You could try refreshing until you get that option, then you can just start at the same time.
I always watch live, and always buy the ep on iTunes. I figure that is the best way to actually support Dollhouse.
Now, if only online streaming would actually work without delays and such....
Very much on the right track here. I am not a Nielson, but I DVR "Chuck" (yay Adam!) and watch it the same night it airs. I also have a subscription to it on iTunes so it downloads automatically it on Tuesday mornings. I also make sure that I have gotten at least 3 or more friends to watch it on Hulu during the week, As well as watch it myself there, so we are boosting all of those numbers a little. Every little bit counts with streaming video.

Both the networks and the advertisers are not sure how to handle DVR and online numbers. The ads online are cheaper as far as paying for ad space, so that is not going to subsidize the show much at all. DVR viewing, like watching on old VHS tapes is troubling to them because by and large people don't watch the commercials, they just zoom through them. There needs to be an entire revamping of how to interpret all of these numbers.

I think the Nielson boxes are antiquated. With satellite and Cable DVR's attached to phone lines, it seems a great way to keep track of what people are watching is to give them all a choice to be counted and download the viewing and recording habits of those who participate. I would think it would be much more accurate.

edited to add italics

[ edited by TartFuel on 2009-04-16 23:43 ]
But then only people with digital cable and who choose to are counted. What about all the people who can't afford it? What if all the fans of a certain show are paranoid about being watched by big brother and opt out, so it looks like that show gets no viewers? That wouldn't be an accurate way either.
I think it’s as good an idea as any. If you reach 1 million of the “calculated” viewers of Chuck and convince them to watch it streamed instead, provided they are not nielsen viewers, then it can and will have an effect. It’s about how many you can reach.

If there are enough fans out there dedicated enough to the show, then yes this campaign will work, at least by increasing the online numbers at NBC’s end, whilst the nielsen ratings won’t change. and they need a system where people report they’ve watched it online at hulu or at itunes.

however, as soon as NBC catches wind of the plot the numbers become meaningless, as they then have to wonder well any increases in online viewers is actually an increase in total viewers. but it certainly might force NBC to consider how useless Nielsen rating can be at times.

Personally I think Nielsen provides the perfect alibi for pirating. or at least an excuse for those who want to rationalise that they’re not stealing anything. If they aren’t a nielsen viewer, then they’re not damaging numbers that go to the advertisers, therefore not costing the makers any money.

the system is flawed and the sooner people realise this, the better. we’re in an age of digital tv and radio. why on earth didn’t someone come up with a way to assign completely anonymous, constantly changing IP address-like individualisers to tv’s and radios, and a way to record “hits” completely anonymously at the network’s end. it’s a much better system for at least total ratings
Do you really think the Nielson families are gonna indulge in antisocial viewing when they know it's going to be monitored. "Be in in a minute dear, just going to watch some pornography!"

Anything is better than the current system. An opt-in seems sensible.
I really don't get Neilson ratings at all. Even if, say, they were 99% accurate of who's watching that, that's an error margin of how many people when such a tiny sample is taken?

And I doubt very much it's anything LIKE 99%. What if, for example, there's only one hundred houses with scifi fans in them? I know it's unlikely, but it could happen. The tiniest ptoblem in the their sample of the audience could skew their numbers completely. I really don't get why a system like that still gets used.
Ratings are about advertising and how much a client is will to pay per head. DVR +7days ratings are of less important because they know we skip ads when time shifting.

But! some Neilson people carry personal monitors, so invite them over for dinner and have them watch our shows live!
Ivalaine: That kind oF randomized sampling would need some way to allow consent, though, otherwise....
I've been doing the leave-a-Hulu-window-open thing too, but I didn't know that Nielsen doesn't count them. So I tried to watch it on instead, but their player crashes my browser. :(

I'm supposed to get a Nielsen diary in the next week or so -- hopefully it'll be in time to make some sort of difference....
Lets look at hard numbers:

In 2004 22% of total households had satellite television in USA . A 70.5% of total households had cable. Those numbers have increased, not decreased. That means that up to 93% or more of US households could be counted if they chose to participate in ratings. Even with 1/3 of the subscribers declining, that is still a much larger sampling of the average American viewer than the current Nielson ratings and therefore more accurate. With only about 7% not getting a chance to vote, it is a vastly better system.

These numbers are from an article in the New York was that was not disputed in any way.

I'm just saying. There is a better way to do the ratings

hacksaway, if an entire audience that watched a certain show was so paranoid as to fear joining the ratings group, that would be hugely unlikely. Those with a pathological fear of "Big Brother" are not anywhere near the psychological norm of society. They just seem like they're in large numbers when they group together on websites and such to commiserate. The bulk of society likes to have a say in what affects them. TV affects them.

[ edited by TartFuel on 2009-04-17 02:04 ]
I was joking with that example. Anyway, right now not all cable customers have digital cable with a box. If the sample's not completely random, it's going to be skewed, even if it's a large sample.
The system needs to be changed. If this campaign helps the networks realise this, then I'm all for it. Now i just need a proxy fast enough to stream Hulu. Anyone?
Well that's an easy fix, anyone who wants to be part of the ratings survey system gets a free digital DVR (or HD DVR if you have the proper TV) that will transmit your day's viewing, per person at midnight back to the service provider who then sends the raw data to Nielson (or whomever) to interpret and release the numbers. Honestly, that is not a big problem. And soon everyone will be digital. As in two months from now so again, no issue there.
I DVR and my friend tivos. We both watch live and later and
I hulu eps at work. I'm so down for an organized
dollhouse stream-a-thon. Get as many folks to stream
Man on the street on one day.
Who's going to pay for all these free DVRs and where can I sign up for one? Two months from now is about people who watch over the air, not the people with analog cable.
hacksaway...Hopefully they're part of the stimulus package.
Whooh-hooh, starlady of the Nielsen diarists!
The problem with Nielsen ratings is not that there are too few households with a Nielsen box. Some elementary statistics tells you that, provided the people with the boxes are truly representative of the entire population (for example randomly chosen and they do not change their viewing behavior due to the fact they have a box) the resulting viewing numbers should be quite accurate. Indeed I was amazed by the high number of households they sample. Now it is pretty unlikely the sample is truly representative, which makes analyzing how accurate the numbers are quite hard, but I would still have reasonable faith in them.

The problem at hand is though that these days ``a lot'' of people (less than it'd seem from the discussions here I imagine) know how the system works; that in fact their actions are completely irrelevant to whether their favorite show gets renewed. Combine this with the fact that people can get large emotional ties to said shows and there is a social problem about democracy. The networks, however, have no reason at all to want to change the system. Why spent lots of money getting extra digits behind the comma right?

Anyway, if you want a democratic system of renewing shows, just put them up as ballot measures at the next presidential election (any other election in the USA would have no value as the turnout would be much too low).

(Just for fun: If the Dollhouse ratings are 3.75 million viewers, and there are 20.000 Nielsen boxes, (roughly the number from the article referenced), then every household counts for about 15.000 people (assuming all 300 million Americans have a TV), so 250 Nielsen households watch Dollhouse. The standard deviation (i.e. "error"), assuming a binomial distribution, would be 16 households, or some 250.000 viewers.)
That FOX blog mentioned above is wrong concerning DVR viewing. Nielson does not track any/all DVR statistics unless you are a Nielson member yourself. Reason being - they need demographic information (age, gender, etc...).

This is part of the reason why unmonitored online viewing is less important to TPTB, as well. Discounting the fact that there are too few people watching via online methods, advertisers want to know the demographics of people viewing.
Anyway, if you want a democratic system of renewing shows, just put them up as ballot measures at the next presidential election (any other election in the USA would have no value as the turnout would be much too low).

Hey, Celebithil, give us some credit: if TV shows were on the ballot, we'd turn out in electoral droves for midterms, tax initiatives, school boards, dogcatcher... just look at the number of people who pay money to vote a bazillion times for their favorite "American Idol" contestants.
I DVR and my friend tivos.

What's the difference? I've heard people use the names interchangeably.
Tivo is just a brand name, like 'Hoover'. They're used interchangeably but 'DVR' encompasses all Digital Video Recording.

hacksaway, if an entire audience that watched a certain show was so paranoid as to fear joining the ratings group, that would be hugely unlikely. Those with a pathological fear of "Big Brother" are not anywhere near the psychological norm of society.

Techies are generally more aware of how their personal information is (and can be) used and abused and more interested in controlling it so that's one potential demo that could be skewed by ratings based on opt-in (especially for sci-fi shows).

And it's not "paranoid" or "pathological" to have a healthy respect for the ways your personal information can be used and a healthy scepticism about the motives of the people holding that information, that's just a variation on the hoary old chestnut "if you've nothing to hide then what's the problem ?" - privacy doesn't need to be justified, we all have a right to it.

Personally, while I accept the Nielsen system clearly isn't perfect, I think polling every TV watcher would show more or less what we know already - American Idol and its ilk are widely watched, shows like Dollhouse, Buffy etc. aren't.
I almost had a Nielsen diary for a week, but Angel had just been canceled and then between the time I got the Nielsen letter and then the phone call asking me if I were interested, Wonderfalls was canceled and I was too defeated to care. There was nothing left for me to root for, and it was just for a week anyway so why bother?

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