So, how do TV ratings work?
The techniques of estimating viewership generally vary from region to region. But the conventional system of evaluating television viewership pattern is a standard rating method. Most of the countries, like the USA, deploy the services of The Nielsen Company to keep tabs on the TV watching frequency and choices of its population.
How do Nielsen ratings work?
Nielsen utilizes an in-house apparatus to estimate the number of people watching a specific television show. These numbers reveal the average count of thousands of people belonging to a particular gender and age, which also shows the number of viewers of that show. This kind of data is then used to assess the popularity of a TV program. Accordingly, the networks calculate the advertising fees they need to charge to the respective companies.
The Nielsen Company
The Nielsen Company records the television viewing habits of the people with respect to particular programs. For this, a representative sample of 25000 households is taken and the shows they watch are noted. This type of sampling seems quite small; for instance, in 2010-11, USA households with TV viewership was computed at around 116 million. These households were selected with an aim to represent a diverse population. Likewise, Nielsen can pick a family household with kids and adults of different age groups and genders for more effective representation of the viewers.
At the time of sweeps periods, Nielsen viewers tend to manually monitor the particular set of shows they regularly watch.
How are TV ratings determined?
Given below is an overview of the procedure followed by the Nielsen Company to estimate television viewership:
Data Collection through TV Box
When someone in Nielson-recorded household switches on the TV, that person reveals his/her identity while the box keeps a tab on the time period of viewing a specific program. Every family member’s viewing pattern is monitored on an individual basis at the given time. In case, a group of people is watching a show, each one of them inputs his/her related data (gender and age) into the box. This way, the viewer-specific information is collected by Nielsen’s box in contrast to the general data gathered by a typical cable TV one.
This in-house equipment let the Nielsen Company evaluate TV viewership for every single day.
After the viewers’ sample is collected, Nielsen converts the number into a percentage. This percentage signifies the total viewership of a specific TV show. For instance, if Example News Show is watched by a total of 2500 persons in Nielsen households in a week, the company estimates that the show has an overall viewership of 10% in these households. Since the networks rate its shows as per the number of weekly viewers, so a rating of 10 points is assigned to Example News Show.
Demographics & Commercial Ratings of TV Shows
Besides the rating points, what holds even more important is the demographics and commercial ratings of a show. As the Nielsen box collects the gender and age-related information of the viewers, this data can be used by the companies to target specific groups of people. For example, people of the 18-49 age group are more likely to purchase things than of the other ages. Hence, this demographic proves very crucial to advertisers.
Also, the networks tend to charge a greater fee to advertisers that add commercials in shows popular among this age group. This applies equally to the shows with lower ratings than the programs preferred by other age groups.
Besides, there is one secondary rating set by The Nielsen Company. Known as ‘commercial rating’, it relies upon the viewership pattern of the commercials. Commercial ratings disclose whether the people are watching the commercials or avoiding them by changing the channel and skimming through other shows. The majority of the advertisers are more concerned about the commercial rating than the market shares or the general rating. This is because the people who do not watch commercial ads carry lesser significance for the advertisers than the ones who do.
Rating is vital to TV networks as it helps them decide the amount of sale time to be allocated to advertisers.
Sweeps Time Periods
‘Sweeps’ is a common term used in relation to the ratings. The months of February, May, July, and November are referred to as ‘sweeps’ periods of the year. In these months, Nielsen provides viewership diaries to millions of family households. Viewers are required to manually note down the TV programs they watch and give the data to the Nielsen company.
During this time, TV networks frequently run appealing programs to enhance viewership and hence, increase their points in people’s diaries.
Time-Flexible Viewing & Internet TV
The rising use of DVRs (Digital Video Recorders) has created complications for the system of rating shows. With DVR, people are able to record a TV program and view it later. This ‘time-shifted’ or ‘time-flexible’ viewing makes it difficult for the Nielsen company to monitor when exactly have people watched a specific show. Nielsen ratings do consider the people who recorded a particular TV program. But estimates the ratings based on the assumption that these potential viewers watched the show within three days of recording.
Further, most of these people have avoided commercial ads while viewing the program on DVR. So, the calculated ratings do not matter to the advertisers.
The growing accessibility of TV programs on the internet can help create new ways of monitoring the viewership. Now, the networks easily get data related to people purchasing and downloading a show via several websites. Some of these sites extend shows for free with minimal advertising. TV channels track the number count of downloads and determine whether to keep running the show or not. As for the advertisers, this kind of viewership information is far less significant than the usual TV viewership. This has resulted in internet streams preferably being made for low priced shows than the conventional broadcasting.