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


  • cas127

    Department of Unanswered Questions –

    What is up with the goofy breakpoints, Nielsen?

    Okay, I’ll buy 18 to 49. Youthful brand selection, lifetime customer value, yadda yadda, okay.

    But 25 to 54? Huh?

    First off, there is huge overlap so what is the point? Just seven years (college years?) off the front end and a mere 5 added to the back.

    Why stop at 55?

    It would seem to make a *lot* more sense to have a 50+ demo instead of a 25 to 54.

    Perhaps the goofy 25 to 54 is at least a *nod* to a population with a rising median age but just a nod – those 55+ oldsters just watch too much TV and might f***-up the illusory viewership scarcity story the networks have been hustling for decades?

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @DenverDean: I’m not sure, I haven’t tried to hunt them down. My memory is that last year I didn’t see them until mid/late September, but my memory isn’t what it used to be. If it slips our radar, TVB.org usually posts them,

  • Patrick Ausgewahlt

    I think it was CBS that invented the 25-54 back in the early 2000’s, may be wrong
    And there is a 50+ demo, but the only time I’ve EVER seen it posted was when they do a complete demographical breakdown after the super bowl

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “It would seem to make a *lot* more sense to have a 50+ demo instead of a 25 to 54.”

    All viewers ages are collected. And Nielsen subscribers see a jillion different reported slices of those age (plus gender) measurements. The ones above are just a handful of the “main” demo groups reported that the media sees.

    To answer your question, even if it was rhetorical, it’s the advertisers who pick the demo groups that are important to them, not Nielsen.

    All those viewers 55+ are counted, and reported by Nielsen, but no advertisers want to pay for them!

  • cas127

    “just a handful of the “main” demo groups reported that the media sees.”

    Hmmm…I wonder how much of “what the media sees” is really “what Nielsen wants the public to see” which is really “what Nielsen’s customers,the media sellers, want the public to *think*”.

    Again, when the networks are selling air time, it is crucial for them to make the media buyers believe eyeballs are scarce (how you can really do this Jedi jiggery-pokery in the era of the internet, well…) in order to maximize CPM prices.

    Eyeballs more abundant = lower CPMs = less ad revenue.

    *Publicizing* a more accurate 50+ metric (say, going beyond, 54 for chrissakes) would cause the jig to be up (the AARP crowd watches a *lot* more TV).

    As for advertisers not “wanting” anybody older than 55…well, I’ll buy the “lifetime customer value” argument but it isn’t like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC don’t have advertisers in Pharma, Healthcare, Travel, or Finance.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @cas127: you’ve been reading our site for years so I don’t have much hope that you can be convinced that there is no Nielsen conspiracy. But for any newcomers: there is no Nielsen conspiracy. There is no “what Nielsen wants you to see.” There quite often is what “Nielsen subscribers want you to see.”

    Cas127 also has it backwards about the networks’ role in things. This statement is flat out wrong: “it’s crucial for the Networks to make media buyers believe eyeballs are scarce.”

    Media buyers, who are also subscribers to the Nielsen ratings, know which eyeballs are scarce already. If the networks had their way it would be “No,no, those people aren’t important look at all these wonderful 55+ we can give you.” There is no scarcity of aging baby boomers watching TV, yet you often see network researchers and PR extolling the virtues of the aging boomer and why advertisers should care about them more.

  • Marc

    It’s nuts to think that 55+ people have chosen their brands.

    Apple vs Blackberry vs Sony vs other Androids
    IPAD’s is a new category all together.

    55 year olds are not what the 1960’s 55 year olds use to be. They are flexible.

    They also have the most disposable income.

    I understand that TIDE or SHAMPOO may not pay for them. But come on… OLD PEOPLE ARE NOT DEAD YET.

    My parents routinely show me a new product that they have tried.

    I feel that older skewing shows are getting the short end of the stick. (Harry’s Law etc).

    I also feel that the age should probably go up to 60, to capture a more realistic age frame that is susceptible to marketing.

    Neilsen has to lead the change. STOP counting 18-49. Count 18-60. or 18-65.

    Anyone who says a 57 year old is “set in their ways” obviously lives in a alternate universe

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    Neilsen has to lead the change. STOP counting 18-49. Count 18-60. or 18-65.

    As Bill noted, Nielsen counts everything (except people under the age of 2). Generally speaking, “Stop giving your subscribers the info they want” is not a good business model.

  • CCBaxter

    Neilsen is trying to do anything to keep itself relevant. As someone who works with cable and advertisers I can tell you that they spend millions on the kind of qualitative data that is actually relevant to what advertisers need. And as to the other information? Right now there are double blind insertion servers which can match public data, IRS, census, with the data the cable companies know, and are able to serve ads to single households. Also it won’t be too long before companies like Acxiom will be data mining that information and cross processing with their database to make ads unique to buyers of those products.
    Add to that the likely fact that that the court decisions favoring Aereo and the FCC reverse auction in March will more than likely drive 1 or 2 nets to become cable nets once the retrans cash cow dies and raw numbers just won’t matter. Will the FCC help them? Look who the new head of the FCC is, that will answer that question. The FCC is interested in providing bandwidth for the cell networks, not for under the dome.
    Content is about 5 years away from being IP delivered and viewed on any device you want. The broadcasters as we know them will be gone.

  • bobby36

    i honestly think this 18-48 measurement is crap due to advertising..i see more people outside my age group spending money at walmart than people 18-49..face it. this generation can find something better to do than watch a tv show when its live and catch up on a weeks worth on dvr or streaming when we are nursing a hangover on a sunday afternoon.

  • Dan S

    I concur with Marc saying its nuts that people over 55 Have chosen their brands. I’m certainly not wedded to any particular car & will be buying 1 in the next couple of years. Why don’t advertisers want to pay for older people who are still buying big ticket items ? Granted my 84 yo Mother is not an ideal target customer especially with her dementia. But most people over 50 are still a missed opportunity who don’t need to be sold on reverse mortgages & life alert systems. When new technology comes along we’re just as interested in the product as anyone else under 50.

  • BBFan

    What’s missing from this is how the industry uses the data. Nielsen provides estimates & the stations & networks then decide how to apply them to the business. The 22-24K metered homes only cover the top 25 markets. Nielsen relies on paper diaries during the 4 sweeps months & other outside data sources for the remaining markets. The local stations & cable networks also make use of those sources. So don’t worry about studio’s & advertisers getting an accurate picture of who’s watching what & how valuable those viewers are. The Nielsen’s are just the cover story for all the data the industry collects.

    Disputes arise when the Nielsen estimates become out of whack with what that other data is showing. Nielsen works with the stations & networks to help resolve those discrepancies. That can lead to repositioning/adding metered homes in a local market. That happened in recent yrs with Nick/MTV networks. Don’t feel neglected that you are not a metered Nielsen home. Your service provider collects plenty of information from your tv usage. That gets passed on to the people willing to pay for it including all your account activity. What they don’t know, they will guess at from that usage. Your privacy was invaded the moment you accepted a set top box into your home.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @BBFan: Local People Meters are only in the top 25 markets, but the National People Meters are in the top *56* markets.

  • Jörg Britz

    18-49? 50+ don’t count? They’re not even retired yet for 15 years. Sounds like BS.

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