We write about ratings all the time and sometimes the ratings for shows that we love aren't so good. I love 30 Rock, you love Jericho or Moonlight (good news Moonlight fans, it has the best ratings of all 3!).
Inevitably, we wind up getting comments and e-mail about how flawed, unreliable and untrustworthy the Nielsen counting is.
I understand it, but after careful consideration and a little bit of research I think people who complain about Nielsen probably are going to need to get over it.
Over time, there will be better data. Both by Nielsen and others. More and more data will be available via set-top boxes, but in round numbers, only about 50% of the homes currently have any kind of set-top box. A significant portion of the viewing population would be excluded by exclusive reliance on set-top box data.
I don't think Nielsen's approach is perfect, or even close to perfect. Not perfect by any measure, just like you and just like me. But you know what? Just like you and just like me, though we aren't perfect, it's good enough. The TV networks say it's good enough, and the people buying the advertising time say it's good enough.
That's right: the people who sell the product that pays for everything and the people who buy the product that pays for everything say it's good enough.
Bill G. will vouch that sometimes I can be a little crazy. If you need more references, that's easy for me to compile. I wanted some anecdotal data so I randomly stopped people in public and pelted them with the following questions:
- 1. Ever heard of the Super Bowl?
- 2. What's the Super Bowl about?
- 3. Ever heard of the Academy Awards/Oscars?
- 4. What are the Academy Awards/Oscars About?
- 5. Ever heard of the TV show Jericho?
- 6. What's Jericho about?
- 7. Ever heard of the TV show Moonlight?
- 8. What's Moonlight About?
- 9. Ever heard of American Idol?
- 10. What's American Idol about?
I compiled the results. If you don't like my results, sorrry. I don't like that I can't reel in Giselle Bundchen, but I got over it. Or hopefully will someday soon.
There was 100% awareness of both the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. And if I accept variants of "some sports thingy" as a correct answer, 100% of the people polled knew what the Super Bowl was. This was not true in the case of the Oscars where although everyone had heard of it, only 88% could correctly state it was an awards show for the movie industry.
14% of the respondents said they'd heard of Jericho, but only 43% of that 14% could actually explain what Jericho was about.
Only 6% said they'd ever heard of Moonlight, of those 67% were able to correctly describe what the show is about.
But when it came to American Idol, 100% had heard of it, and if I accept "some talent show thingy" as an answer, 100% knew what the show was about.
If you want to complain about how networks decide on programming, timeslots, time and money spent on promotion - that's all fair and probably even productive for the networks if they're checking in.
If you want to question the values of the United States of America based on what programs attract the most viewers, that's a values discussion that doesn't really have anything to do with Nielsen. We're fine with people talking about that here, but I find that sort of discussion more enjoyable if you involve beer.
My survey was fairly random. I didn't show up at the advance Jericho screening at Wondercon and poll the people there or Jericho would have fared dramatically better. That would have been a completely inaccurate sampling, too.
As imperfect as Nielsen's sampling may be, with any and all flaws, I still trust it more than my own random sampling. But even if I didn't, it wouldn't mater. It's good enough for the advertisers and the broadcast networks. Until any of that changes, I bet on inertia. Nothing will change, including the complaints about Nielsen when it comes to low-rated shows and shows on the bubble.