A lot does happen in 34 years. I had a big head of hair in 1977, Nielsen didn't have people meters yet, nobody had invented the DVR yet and "Internet" wasn't even a household word, let alone a household tool. Despite this, the Nielsen pamphlet from 1977 explaining the ratings that USA's Ted Linhart (@TedOnTV) posted reads a lot like the back and forth in our comments section in 2011.
It's obvious from the tone of the pamphlet, that Nielsen was as misunderstood by fans of TV in 1977 as it remains to this day. And fans weren't any happier about it in 1977. Nielsen responds to some of the many complaints it must've been peppered with even then, like:
“Yes, but just because a program gets the most votes doesn’t mean it’s the best”
Of course not. Neither is the best candidate for office always elected. Neither does a jury always reach the right decision. Obviously, quality and popularity don’t necessarily go hand in hand.
Quality is an elusive thing. One man’s treasure is another man’s trash and so it always will be. Since there are just so many hours in a day for TV broadcasting, no one has yet come up with a proposal that makes as much sense as counting the votes.
And as ever, no matter how much explaining one attempts, people still are misinformed about Nielsen. The first comment on Ted's post complains that Nielsen doesn't measure DVR or online viewing. But as Ted himself constantly notes, Nielsen has been measuring DVR viewing for 5 years and also now measures online viewing provided the online version has the same commercials that aired on TV*.
If you're a regular reader of TV by the Numbers, the 1977 pamphlet is worth a look.
*Almost none of the networks are participating in the new measure or doing anything with it yet, but that's another story.