Basically, ratings are simply an audience measurement system used by
both the TV and advertising industries. Through a survey, it measures
the size and other particulars of the audience of television shows.
In turn, these results will serve as guide for advertisers where to place their advertisements to reach the greatest number of people at the least cost and all the other pertinent statistics. These survey results can mean the continued existence or the merciless death of a television program.
Just how reliable are these ratings in measuring how many are watching a particular free TV show? Are the data correct and verifiable? Do the results truly reflect the real nature of the TV audience?
The business of audience measurement was developed for radio by Nielsen Media Research founded by Arthur Nielsen. In 1950, his business moved to television. Over the years, his method had become the standard in TV audience measurement all over the world.
The methods of gathering television ratings are done two ways:
1) Viewer “diaries” or records of viewing or listening habits of the target audience which is self-recorded. The demographics are varied, thereby rendering a good statistical distribution of the audience.
2) Set meters which are small counting devices of sort that are connected to the TV sets in selected houses. These meters records the viewing habits of the homeowner and sends the data every night through the phone line.
The meters also measure the viewing habits of the user down to the exact times when channels are changed or when the set is turned on or off. The added People Meters also produced other useful viewing information about the user.
Going with the times, Nielsen also started to measure the use of digital video recordings (like TiVO) for people who record their favorite shows for later viewing. Initial findings show that time-shifted viewing does alter TV ratings.
The Nielsen results use two measurements, ratings point and share.
In September 2008, there are 114.5 million television households in the U.S. The single national ratings point represents 1% of this number or 1,145,000 households.
Share is the number of TV sets opened during the survey. If the Nielsen reports a show as having a 10/25 figure, it means that 10% of households were watching the program (ratings point) while only 25% of all TV sets were open during that time (share).
Ratings mean the percentage of the total number of TV sets tuned in to the show. Share is the percentage of TV sets actually opened and in use. Every year, Nielsen re-estimates the number of households with TV sets in preparation for every survey season.
Through the years, the advertising industry has placed classifications to certain demographic statistics. The viewers in the 18-49 age groups are regarded more important than the total number of viewers. Other products specify younger viewers, and still others prefer older audiences, or are females as the case maybe.
There had been criticisms on the methods used by the Nielsen ratings. One is the response bias of those involved in the survey. Counts are sometimes higher in self-reporting diaries than those gathered by electronic meters.
One other important critique is that these surveys are not really random. Only a small part of the population and only those that accept are used as the sample size.
Other criticisms include the lack of measuring TV audiences in large environments of TV watching like college dorms, transport terminals, bars and other public places. Included too is the growing number of Internet viewers that had not been counted.
For its part, Nielsen promised to introduce new ways to measure TV audiences, and they will include these non-traditional viewing places as well. New, sophisticated measuring devices will be used in the coming days, mostly those that don’t rely on human intervention.
For free TV show fans everywhere, do these ratings matter? Or does it matter if your favorite show is cancelled allegedly for lack of viewers? Stay tuned for more of this topic.