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March 22 2004

Confessions of a Nielsen family An interesting article into how the Nielsen ratings system works (especially for non-Americans). There is even a Buffy mention.

"We once made the mistake of telling an other­wise mature and sophisticated couple we know that we're a Nielsen household. Their immediate reaction was: "You have to watch 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer' so it won't get canceled." "

We were a Nielsen family for a few years. The only show that we watched that ever ended up in the top 10 was Law and Order. The only show that we ever left all our TVs on to get bonus ratings for was Firefly. We couldn't save anything, so we quit when we moved to our new house.

It's amazing how much of a "mom and pop" company this Nielsen that rules what you see on TV really is.

I hate the TV ratings system and the way it strangles creativity.
If the Nielsen people find out who these people are they will not only lose their box before five years they may also be sued for revealing themselves in such a way and the paper may also lose out as well, or it's parent company will (if it has one), Nielsens are as secrective as the mob or the masons and if you talk you will suffer. A News station in Texas found that out, when supposidly in a news report they showed what a Nielsen diary looked like, the cover only btw, (a complaint from a rival station alerted the Nielsen company to the incident). Nielsen not only investigated the incident they sued the station because showing anything outside of what Nielsen releases to them as in ratings numbers is a breach of contract. Then they went even further and dropped the station from it's local ratings report for a year. I personally have found just within the last year how completely inept Nielsen and their system really is and it's sad to think our viewing habits and shows are judged by this - it really would be laughable if it wasn't true.
This article certainly gave me some insight as to why the ratings are so screwy. One household represents over 13,000 people?? And they get to keep the box for 5 years?? No wonder we see the same junk topping the ratings time and again. What the Nielsens need to do is expand the amount of people they survey, and maybe change it up every 6 months or so, that way you truly get some variety and a better idea of what the nation is watching.
You know, I wouldn't be surprised if Tivo started to reign supreme ratings-contraption. They were able to find out that Janet's Boobie Moment was the most repeated moment. I'm sure they've got charts and charts showing what is the most commonly recorded program, what people watch, etc.

Then again, if that was how easy it was -- we could have used all this ad money to buy up Tivo subscriptions and have them all set to Angel ;)
One household represents over 13,000 people??

It's actually more like 22,000 people--I'm not sure if the interviewee or the interviewer made the mistake but the article definitely wasn't fact checked. As long as Nielsen is using a representative sample it doesn't matter though. There is a standard formula used by scientists to determine things like this and Nielsen claims to use it. They did announce in late February that they are raising the sample number from 5,100 to 10,000.

There is definitely a problem with representative bias, however, since people select whether to do it or not. Nielsen may be representative in who it offers to participate but those who actually choose to do so may have a lot in common with each other and are not very representative. I think TiVo would be problematic in that way also as it is similarly self-selective and only the more affluent viewers would be represented.

There is also apparently a lawsuit going on because the networks don't think that people are actually pushing the demographic buttons on the People Meters. The '90s showed a drastic drop in viewers in the key 18-34 year-old male group who apparently don't bother to push the buttons. I'm wondering if Raven U has more on this??
The lawsuit is from the hispanic community - I think at least that is the last I heard. The huge drop in the male demo this year was do to a change in the Nielsen ratings system before this season began, to add more hispanic viewers to the sample to even out the number of viewers to be more inline with the actually population. This however backfired by adding them it completely skewed the numbers they reported at the begining of the season. Within a few monthes Nielsens converted back to their old way of numbering, dropping many hispanic viewers from their list and shoring up the numbers to a more acceptible drop off level. Itwent from a 40% drop in viewers to a 20 % drop once they re-did the numbers and most of that loss was in the key male demo 18-34.

Also Nielsen who was going to be pushing the personal people meters in some areas of the country by this fall have now pushed that deployment back to 2005 with no real reasoningfor the move given.

Last but not least Nielsen's will be reporting TIVO numbers beginning in Jan 2005. One of the reasons I had hoped Angel would get a 6th season was to see what kind of numbers it would get then. Actually Nielsen is going to credit TIVO shows as long as you watch it with 7 days of air. So it will no longer be driven by ratings by timeslot as it will be by actual program - that's the goodnews - the bad news - don't fast foreward through the commercials cause that will count against the show.
Anonymous user data (TiVo's term for its spyware) will probably undergo some changes as the device's software is upgraded...I worked for Philips/TiVo when the company first started out in 1998 and there is a lot of secret stuff that device can do...I think that a TiVo is an excellent alternative to a Nielsen device (but the whole skipping commercial negates viewer credit is rediculous considering this is the resaon over 75% of TiVo subscribers bought the device in the first place)

[ edited by Simpleba on 2004-03-23 08:50 ]

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