On Friday, I mentioned my dislike for the Nielsen Ratings system. However, I spent so much time detailing how the Nielsen system works and the reasons it arose, I never got to explain why I don’t like the system and feel it is now outmoded. With any luck, today I will finish my discussion of the Nielsen system, but who knows.
Let’s start with the concept of poor metrics. When Nielsen arose, the concept of measuring a sample population was helpful. It gave light to what was being watched and what wasn’t. But the keyword in all of this is sample. Often a same is a good representative body of what one would expect on a whole. Measuring a whole is a very different thing, especially when not everyone clocks in. As a result, a small portion of the population represents a far larger majority. One person’s viewing habits represent the number of people in a small town. Now that is a pretty blatant assumption that their sample person really is representative.
This leads me to the idea that the sample population for the sake of a sample population could be skewed. We don’t know how the Nielsen Group goes about selected who it seeks out to be its participants. If it isn’t a truly balanced group with representatives of the fringes also involved, then it isn’t an accurate balance. We know they seek out various demographics, namely the age brackets, but how diligent are they when it comes to diversifying. With an ever shifting demographic within the US, it makes sense to hit all target groups, but are they?
Now, assuming that the people selected to praticipate in Nielsen’s program are truly representative of the population, there is still the issue of the sample size. Modern technology allows us to be more accurate when it comes to measurements. While, viewing habits still can not be fully controlled, the control cable companies and content providers have over their content has vastly improved. They know how many people are watching what when going through their channels, which is the job of Nielsen. If the cable companies can measure what is being sent to your tv thanks to your digital box or cable, then why is Nielsen still the primary source of discovering what people are watching live.
For the purposes of funding, which is why we get TV shows, it makes sense that live TV measurements are the main focus when determining funding. Live TV prevents its watchers from fast forwarding through the commercials that fund the shows. Whenever, a person can avoid or skip commercials most people will. Thus services like Hulu and Netflix become more popular as they eliminate this.
However, if it comes to judging the true popularity of a show, regardless of funding, Nielsen is useless. Nielsen’s goal is to indicate which shows have the ability to pull in more audience that will watch the show live and thus have a better chance of watching commercials. Nielsen’s goal is not to indicate how well a show is received, or how many people enjoy a show. It is how much money can a show make with commercials. When you think of it that way, Nielsen makes a bit more sense.
Unfortunately, Nielsen is still outdated. As I mentioned before, shows can be measured by cable companies. That will provide a more accurate reading of live viewing than a sample size that only represents a portion. Personally, I prefer my data as accurate as it can possibly be, especially if it is determining the fate of a show I love.
As I predicted, I am not quite done with my thoughts on the Nielsen Ratings. Check back here tomorrow for the final installment, where I will discuss Nielsen ratings should not be used as a popularity scale of a show.