TV Ratings & You.
Television has been dying for a few years now. I’m sure everyone reading this has had a favourite TV show cancelled. Let’s look at the list. Boston Legal, Dirty Sexy Money, Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies, The Unusuals, The Unit, Without A Trace, Reaper, Everybody Hates Chris, King Of The Hill, MADtv, Prison Break, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, ER, Life, My Name Is Earl. That’s just last year.
Why do these shows get cancelled? Well, nobody is watching apparently. That’s what the networks keep telling us. How do they know? Why, ratings, of course. How do these ratings work? Why am I asking so many questions?
According to Wikipedia, Arthur Nielsen was a market analyst who in 1950 developed a ratings system for television based on the same system he and his company had invented for radio programming in the 1930s. This is basically the same system used today.
Nielsen ratings are a gathered in two ways. Firstly, through “diaries” in which a target audience self-records its viewing habits. Secondly, through Set Meters, which are small devices connected to televisions in selected homes. These devices send the viewing habits of a television directly to the Nielsen company through a phone line. Wow, science-fiction come real!
Now here is where the whole thing falls apart. Firstly, this system is only in America, which I don’t mind because the bulk of shows we watch are from America and those guys only make them for themselves. The fact that we watch them is an afterthought for them.
A prototypical Nielsen family?
Secondly, There are only 25,000 households that participate in this ratings system. As of 2009, there are 114,500,000 households in America. Who knows math? Yep, that means only 0.02183% of the population of America has a say in what we watch. Also, you know when you hear about a show getting a 3.4 share in the ratings? Here is the explanation. 1 point equals 1 percent of the households participating in this ratings system. There’s 114,500,000 households in America with TVs, so 1 share point represents 1,450,000 people watching said program.
Ever heard the phrase “sweeps”? This is when all the diaries and data are collected over a month long period. This is done four times a year in March, May, July, and November. This extra data shows what shows are being watched more than others and therefore, advertisers know where to put their ads, and it help the stations figure prices. If Two and a Half Men has twice as many viewers than Better Off Ted, then the station can charge twice as much for advertising air time for the limited amount during Two and a Half Men, and Better Off Ted can get cancelled to make room for another show that will attract more viewers. Advertising companies , who really pay for the shows we watch, will only pay for time in which their commercials will be watched. They use this Nielsen system as a way to know when who is watching what. Am I going too fast for ya?
Onto demographics. The public are divided up into age categories by the ratings system. The advertisers like some demographics more than others. In fact, advertisers like the 18-49 age demographic. For some reason, they think this age group spends more on the products they advertise, or are more susceptible to commercials. Probably because we do and we are. But here’s the kicker. Baby-boomers are now well into their 60s and there are more of them, they have more money, and they spend more money. They also watch more television when it’s on TV, so they actually see the ads. But because the advertisers aim for this 18-49 demographic, the networks can charge $419,000 for a commercial during Grey’s Anatomy, but only $248,000 for one during CSI, which has five million more viewers, but in the older demographic.
Now, this ratings system has problems. They don’t have enough of a market sample to really give an accurate depiction of what people are actually watching. Big television events of the year (Super Bowl, Daytona, Grammys, Oscars) have all been moved to sweeps periods to gain more advertising dollars, so the data is changed to purposefully not reflect regular viewing habits. In fact, most shows have been moved to fit in with the sweeps period. Remember the last couple of years since the writer’s strike how the biggest shows now give us 6 episodes in October and November and then they go off the air for 3 months and then miraculously all come back around February and March. That’s the time they make them money. These shows aren’t cheap to make. Why waste money for episodes that aren’t making them the bonus dollars that sweeps pulls in? Maybe because advertisers will figure this out soon and stop throwing money at shows that might not be there when they want their products shown.
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