What Is a TV Rating and Who Is It Dating? 2013-14 Edition

Categories: Help,TV Ratings Reference

Written By

August 27th, 2013


These are  Nielsen US TV universe estimates for the 2013-14 season which are being used effective August 26, 2013.

Nielsen TV ratings are merely percentages of whatever is being measured.  Sometimes it gets confusing because so many different things are measured.

If you see a 3.4 national adults 18-49 rating, that doesn't mean 3.4 million adults 18-49, it just means 3.4 percent of the 126,960,000 adults 18-49 in the United States (up from 126,540,000 last season) who live in a household with a television were watching based on the Nielsen estimates for the 2013-14 television season.

So a 3.4 adults 18-49 rating works out to be around 4.32 million adults 18-49.

Here are some of the ratings slices we frequently post data for and the total size of the populations being measured.

Nielsen Estimates 2013-14 Popluation (Millions) A 1.0 Rating Equals
Households 115.80 1.158 Million
People 2+ 294.56 2.9456 Million
Adults 18-49 126.96 1.2696 Million
Women 18-49 64.02 640,020
Men 18-49 62.94 629,400
Adults 18-34 67.63 676,300
Women 18-34 33.78 337,800
Men 18-34 33.85 338,500
Adults 25-54 119.75 1.1975 Million
Teens 12-17 24.63 246,300
Kids 2-11 39.34 393,400


I am including the estimates for the 2012-13 season below since the estimates for 2013-14 are up a bit in the aggregate. That's mostly because effective with the 2013-14 estimates Nielsen is counting some households (about 1.5 million of them) that don't have any "traditional TV" and only get programming via non-traditional means (mostly "streaming only").

This change, though pretty small (only a third of 1% with adults 18-49) will drive 18-49 ratings down a tiny bit in the coming season. That's because those non-traditional TV households add to the base of potential 18-49 viewers in the Nielsen calculation -- but NONE of those households (or the people in them) actually get  CBS, NBC, ESPN, USA, AMC, FX, etc.

To say that again, those non-traditional homes count as potential viewers even though none of them actually get CBS, NBC, ESPN, USA, AMC, FX in their households because they don't have a cable, satellite, telco service and don't receive channels over the air via antenna either. "Antenna-only" homes are perhaps old school, but they are still "traditional."

It's kind of wacky, but that's the kind of wackiness that occurs when people demand that Nielsen be progressive and get with the times.  A new square for the fan excuse bingo cards is born!


 ***2012-13*** Nielsen Estimates Popluation (Millions) A 1.0 Rating Equals
Households 114.20 1.142 Million
People 2+ 289.42 2.894 Million
Adults 18-49 126.54 1.265 Million
Women 18-49 63.98 639,800
Men 18-49 62.56 625,600
Adults 18-34 67.66 676,600
Women 18-34 33.89 338,900
Men 18-34 33.77 337,700
Adults 25-54 118.70 1.187 Million
Teens 12-17 24.02 240,200
Kids 2-11 39.61 396, 100


  • Sam

    I never understood why the cable or satellite companies can’t just report who’s watching what show and who isn’t. I get that not everyone has cable or satellite, but I feel like that would be way more accurate that having a select number of people to determine TV ratings.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @Sam: privacy and, the expense of doing it would be enough of a reason but there’s more.

    does your cable and satellite company know how old you are? how many people are in your house? how old they are? whether they are male or female? which one (or more) of you watched? They can triangulate some of that, but definitely not who was watching without going through considerable expense to launch a brand new product that SEES who in your house was watching and automatically tracks it!

    Do you have pets? Do you own a truck? how much money do you make? Are you’re looking to buy a house or car? Nielsen figures that and lots of other stuff out. Fans (and sometimes TV show producers) don’t care about that stuff, but the advertisers care.

  • Zed

    I read somewhere that Nielsen only measures 0.02% of the population. Would adding some more houses be too expensive? Because i can’t find reason as to why 0.02 is enough to be accurate.

  • Observer

    @Sam, I can think of at least two reasons. One is that people would scream bloody murder that their privacy was being invaded if that information was reported without their express consent. (Although perhaps we should be used to this kind of thing happening given all the NSA news.)

    Secondly, the advertisers wouldn’t get their demo data that way. They’d have no clue if it was 70 year old granny or 27 year old Biff who was watching.

  • Observer

    Oops, sorry, Robert already answered that better than I did.

  • tjw


    There’s actually an interesting feature of statistical sampling wherein, with extremely large populations (like 116m households) you actually don’t need a significantly larger sample to get equally accurate results. Nielsen uses a sample of 23,000 households which, yes, is .15% of all households. But that sample is still large enough to bring the margin of error under 1% at a 99% confidence interval.

    Sure, if they tripled the size of the sample, they could reduce the margin of error to under .5%, but would it really be worth it (financially especially) to know if a show had 4.975-5.025 million viewers instead of 4.95-5.05 million?

  • Oliver

    When does Nielsen switch over to using these new figures, which include streaming-only households?

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @Oliver, they went into effect with the ratings for Monday (8/26).

  • bk8718

    Man, there must be a lot of 18-year-old men. Or a lot of 35-year-old women.

  • HV

    I wonder what shows like L&O:SVU get in the kids 2-11 demo :P

  • Max Vrany

    Don’t forget that national public opinion polls only have a sample size of about a thousand people and they’re accurate to within a few percentage points. Nielsen’s sample is about 22,000 households, with multiple viewers in most of those households. As said that’s more than enough, assuming it’s a truly random sample.

  • Survivor Fan


    Males are born more often than females, but females live longer than males. Thus, there is the 50/50 point somewhere between age 18 and age 49.

  • AppleStinx

    All demos had increase in numbers except for Kids 2-11 and Women 18-34. In fact, W18-34 are outnumbered by M18-34 in this cycle; and the gap between W18-49 and M18-49 is much smaller. Hopefully we’ll see fewer of those Liberty Mutual ads until at least next year.

  • brent

    So is the whole Twitter buzz and other social media outlets still being considered for separate ratings this season?
    Or was that a joke? Or am I just stupid and made that up in my own imagination?

  • scifi

    “they went into effect with the ratings for Monday (8/26)”

    Thatswhy Siberia falls!

  • DKD


    There is a lot of tracking going on of social media buzz. But, it’s not being used to put a price on the programming for the advertising as the ratings do. Buzz metrics are measuring something different and being used by the networks for different purposes.

  • DenverDean

    @Robert Seidman – When is Nielsen releasing the 2013-14 DMA market rankings? It’s always amazing how there are some big shifts in individual markets year-to-year. Last year, NY, LA and ATL all dropped by more than 100K homes.

  • DenverDean

    ^ Actually, I meant from 2010-2011 to 2011-12. And then some were adjusted back up in 2012-13. Those are pretty big shifts from year-to-year.

  • TomSF

    So basically, that means a 3.4 in 2012-13 would have equalled 4,301,000 18/49 year old viewers, compared to 4,316,640 in 2013-14.

  • HalCapone

    You can just feel the turbulence of winds of change in the air with respect to how television is being watched. Nielsen does the best that any such service can do in measuring traditional television ratings. Even though there is the familiarity and comfort factor in using Nielsen’s system, I have to believe if there were a better alternative/company, advertisers would be clamoring to use it/them. Traditional television watching is being turned on its head now. The biggest challenge for Nielsen, advertisers and networks is all the growing content that is being watched online, on-demand, on mobile devices and to a lesser extent on DVR’s (which might be losing some appeal since so much content is available on-demand now and streaming on mobile devices it’s no longer necessary to record it). Will Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Google and the anticipated AppleTV be giving the networks and cable a run for their money in the not so distant future? Cable cord cutting is no longer just a myth as viewers rebel against high cable bills for content they don’t want or watch. Has anyone else noticed the increase in commercial breaks on cable programs that now account for more time than broadcast? Will the newly re-re-revised talks in Washington about cafeteria options for selecting cable channels finally have some traction? ESPN, for one, certainly hopes not and has a ton of lobbyists working to stop that in it tracks, no doubt. Change does not typically happen overnight in television but one can definitely feel the momentum starting to pick up. Stay tuned.

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