I’m not going to pretend I like Nielsen Ratings. I’m not going to pretend they are an accurate voice of those watching. And I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t heard horror stories from people who actually are in the Nielsen system. While, I may despise the system, I’m not going to just sit back and simply voice my frustration, I’m going to be logical.
How Nielsen Emerged
A long time ago, before the interwebz was even conceived TV channels wanted to know how their content was stacking up against the competition. They wanted to know how many people were actually watching a specific show. It came from many practical reasons. If a show was doing well, many people were watching it. If a lot of people were watching a show, more people were seeing the commercial breaks. If there are more people watching the commercials during a show, then a channel could charge those advertisers more depending on the viewing audience.
But how can one know how many people are watching a show? They found out with metrics!
Before the era of the interwebz, the ability to grab information of what people were watching was difficult. Channels were sent over the air allowing people with bunny ears to just pick up anything they could. Then TV largely switched over to coax. Cable providers could now better control who had what. But there was still an air of unknown as to what was going on in the home.
Thus, Nielsen came in like a knight in shining armor and proclaimed, “I can find out who is watching what!” What the Nielsen company decided to do was place eyes into the homes of a sample group. These sample houses would represent the viewing populace of the country. Each sample house counted as a part of the demographic, representing 20,000 others or more. Nielsen would request viewing diaries. Which are just as creepy as they sound and were likely as full of lies as an ordinary diary. Each diary was meant to catalog the viewing habits of each person in the house. How could I almost forget about the phone calls about who watched what in your home.
That was a long time ago, although Nielsen does still use the viewing diaries, they’ve adopted a jury rig of contraptions to pull information from your TV, Once the arduous process of this set up is complete, on every TV in you house, you get to comply to their easy rules. Most people simply turn on the TV and that’s it. People with Nielsen contraptions have to also sign in.
I completely understand what Nielsen was going for back in the day. It made perfect sense. To find out what people were watching, you needed some look into their home. With the cumbersome process that Nielsen had, it couldn’t be asked to be done by everyone in the country. Instead, they needed to find representatives to act as the voice of others. While the assumption that what a group of people are watching provide a sample, it doesn’t necessarily accurately represent what the other 19,996 people are watching. But it was the best they could do at the time, and it was far better than nothing.
In the past, Nielsen ratings were the best that people could do to identify what people were watching. But in 2013, it is an outdated system. My major issue is that the Nielsen system, despite new in-home gadgets, is essentially measuring viewership the same. Considering, I haven’t got the point of voicing my qualms with the Nielsen system, this is going to be a multi part post. Check back to see part 2.