Although different regions may use various methods, the traditional way to monitor television viewing habits has been a rating system. In many countries, including the United States, the Nielsen Company uses internal devices that track the viewing habits of thousands of people. These numbers represent what average people of a certain age and gender are watching, which then indicate the number of viewers who are likely to watch a particular show. Networks use this information to gauge the popularity of certain shows, which determines how much they charge companies to advertise during those shows.

The Nielsensen company

The Nielsen Company tracks the programs viewers watch on television networks through a representative sample of approximately 25,000 households that allow the company to record the programs they watch. This is a fairly small sample, considering US households with televisions for the 2010-2011 listening season were estimated to be nearly 116 million, but they choose people based on their ability to represent different populations. For example, Nielsen could choose a family with adults and children of multiple genders and age groups to better represent a larger number of viewers.

How information is collected

Whenever someone in a Nielsen household turns on a television, it indicates who it is and the box keeps track of how long the person watches a show. Each family member has their own individually recorded viewing habits, indicating who is watching television at any given time. If multiple people, including guests, view a show, each enters their age and gender information in the box so that each person’s viewing habits can be tracked. This viewer-specific data distinguishes information recorded by Nielsen from data collected by a standard cable television.

Sampling

Nielsen transforms this sample of spectators into a percentage that represents the total number of spectators. If 2,500 people in Nielsen households watch Example News Show in one week, for example, they conclude that 10% of TV viewers in all households have watched the show. This would indicate a 10-point rating, and the networks rank their shows based on the number of viewers they have each week.

Demographics and business assessments

More important than just the ratings of a show are certain demographics and “commercial ratings” for a program. Because the Nielsen box tracks viewing habits based on age and gender, businesses can specifically target certain groups, such as people between the ages of 18 and 49. This age group tends to buy more products than other ages, so it has become the most important demographic for many advertisers. Networks may charge more money to advertisers who place advertisements on a show with a large number of viewers in this demographic, even if the show’s overall ratings are lower than those of another, more popular show with older or more audiences. young.

The Nielsen Company has also established a secondary rating called a “commercial rating,” which is based on ad viewing habits. Ratings are valuable to networks because they use these numbers to sell time to advertisers. Ad ratings indicate whether people are actually watching ads or just skipping them through recorded shows or channel switching. Many advertisers care more about commercial ratings than general ratings or market shares, since viewers who skip their ads aren’t as valuable to them as those who watch ads.

Months of sweeps

Many viewers have heard the term “sweep” related to ratings. During the months of November, February, May and July, Nielsen sends viewing journals to millions of families. People keep a manual record of what they watch and then send this information to the company. Networks often run particularly exciting programs to attract more viewers during these months, which increases their number in collected journals.

Time Shift and Internet Television

A major problem that has arisen for rating systems is the growing popularity of digital video recorders (DVRs) which allow people to record shows and watch them later, called “time-shifted viewing.” Nielsen ratings take these viewers into account, but they can’t keep track of exactly which shows are being watched at what time, only viewers have recorded them and likely watched them within about three days. Since many people skip commercials when playing on DVRs, many advertisers don’t care much about these numbers.
The increased availability of Internet shows has offered new possibilities for tracking viewing habits. TV networks can easily see how many people pay and download a show through various websites, and many of them offer shows for free with limited advertising. The number of downloads may be recorded by television networks and may influence decisions about keeping certain programs on the air. However, many advertisers don’t consider such viewing as valuable as regular TV viewing, which has made internet streams for shows less financially important than traditional broadcasting.

Chris Kille
Author: Chris Kille

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