What you should know about TV Ratings
No one ever listens to me BUT herardentwish asked me how tv ratings work especially with the advent of DVR and people hopping online to watch more and more media content rather than sit in front of the television.
I mean essentially, tv ratings became a thing before you think. It was actually invented for radio broadcasts, then old dude Arthur Nielsen who was a marketing guy expanded that to television in the 50s. This was back when t.v. was the thing your family did as a group together after dinner for one hour.
ALSO not everyone even had a t.v. so it was easy to predict that if there were three channels to pick from, and maybe 1,000 people in your city had a television, what the percentage of viewers might be for a thing.
The stupid problem is that the formula hasn’t changed much, it’s just adjusted for how long we now spend watching t.v. on average, who watches (ethnically and age wise) and how many people have easy access to a television which is now millions of people. Except now millions of people are also like ‘fuck you’ to commercials.
BUT COMMERCIALS ARE IMPORTANT.
So, advertisers pay money (a lot of it, that’s why the Superbowl is apparently more about the ads than the game) to say ‘We want our ad to run during this show because A LOT OF PEOPLE WATCH IT.’
It’s like in The Walking Dead, when we got this shot of walkers chowing down on a dead guy and then the first ad at the break was people chowing down on fried chicken.
And if your show does well, more expensive companies who have more money to throw at the network will hop on the dollar sign train and everyone is happy. What ruins everyone’s happy is less viewers which can be for a couple of reasons:
1) People just aren’t watching.
2) People are fast forwarding through commercials, therefore you never see the ad, which means sales don’t go up for that product, whatever it is.
3) People are watching on their computers.
So, about point 1:
Nielsen can’t actually give everyone the software to track what’s being watched, because as of 2013, approximately 115 MILLION people have a t.v. So, here’s what they do. Ratings will look like this:
Once Upon a Time - Live, Same day rating - 2.1/6.
That means that on average, 2.1% of everyone in the country with a television were at some point watching the show, and 6% watched for the entire hour solid.
A single point = 1.15 million households. So, that’s roughly 6 million people who watched it live. That’s a lot of people. When you get down into the 3-4 million mark, there’s a danger zone unless you’re say, on HBO where there is no advertising and the only risk is the company’s. But when people don’t watch, advertisers pull, the network loses money, the show gets canned. Thems the breaks. RIP, Happy Endings.
When you throw the DVR thing into the mix it gets even more complicated. You have to wait 7 days to even get those numbers. (Though some companies will only wait 3 days, which gives you some inaccuracy right there.)
Continuing to use Once Upon a Time as our example and the same episode, once the ‘plus seven’ days were added, that increased their numbers to 2.3/7. So, there is a notable difference. The problem is that when people are watching on their DVRs, advertisers aren’t making money, so if the ratings aren’t high on the live viewing, they start pulling out, the ratings drop, and that’s how good shows get cancelled. The difference in numbers can be so insignificant that statistically there’s no actual measurable difference between one show and the other, so it will literally come down to which show had the highest rating even if one show is 2.1 and the other is 2.2.
The problem with Nielsen is that, sure, it now rates DVR viewings too, but the sample sizes are small, and raters are still required to keep a diary. Yes, an ACTUAL diary and that is something I have been a part of. A diary that you actually write down what show you watched and at what time you watched it. My experience? Jesus, I don’t remember when I watched this thing on my DVR. I guess it was…three days ago around two in the morning?
That is 100% what the diary looks like.
(So really if you want to ‘boycott’ something you need two things: A Nielsen rating box and a DVR. If you don’t have both of those things, you are 100% wasting your time not watching a show.)
Point two was kind of covered in point 1, so moving on to point three:
There’s a reason Hulu has ads you can’t skip.
If they have advertisers, they can keep the price of being able to watch all this free content at a certain level because we’re seeing ads for say, Tide laundry detergent, and once we’re done with our New Girl binge watch, we want to smell like a summer spring day like Jess Day probably does. So we go out and buy that product.
BUT THERE’S A REALLY IMPORTANT THING HERE TO KNOW:
Internet versions of television shows still don’t count in the ratings. STILL. IN 2013. Because the ads are either non-existent (Netflix) or there aren’t enough of them (Hulu), and remember - it’s all about $$$$$$$
The Money Train. (Or: A movie I didn’t know was real until 5 seconds ago.)
Just to give you an example of how times have changed?
I Love Lucy was once the highest rated comedy on television with an average of 43 million viewers per episode.
The highest rated comedy of the 2013 season was The Big Bang Theory with 19 million viewers per episode.
Congratulations, America. We’ve had a good run.