Some of the wonderful things rattling around in this full brain 'o mine. UPDATED EVERY TUESDAY AND THURSDAY (or at least twice a week)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

TV Ratings – Why oh Why won’t someone do something better than Nielson?

You know, it’s amazing. The things that get cancelled on TV. Great great shows, like Firefly, Family Guy (the first time around), and now something great, like Studio 60 will probably be cancelled to be replaced by some other stupid reality show, or another mobster show, or another guilty pleasure show.

Why do things get cancelled? Well…they don’t make the ratings pop. Funny thing is though, I believe there’s a big enough audience out there for shows like this…I just don’t think the ratings are collected in such a way to measure that. The precedent for this is Family Guy. The show was cancelled because it wasn’t a big enough boon for Fox. That’s fine. Except that the audience was there…it started getting big ratings on Cartoon Network, and in syndication. It scored huge when it started selling seasons on DVD. That’s what brought it back to TV.

Heck, Firefly was so popular on DVD, that Universal funded a full-fledged feature film, which I’m also willing to bet bombed at the box office (even though I went and saw it), but has more than held it’s own on DVD.

These shows are still being cancelled though…mostly because of the ratings…otherwise known as the Nielson Ratings.

Based on HowStuffWorks, here’s what Nielson currently does:

They call up 5000 households representing a suitable representative sample of the entire 99 Millions households that have TVs (that’s .005% for those of you keeping track) and ask each of these households if they can be sampled either by keeping a TV watching diary, or by having a device attached to their TV or cable box to keep track of what they watch. Then, once the data is gathered, it’s extrapolated to represent the entire TV watching population. Keep in mind, this sample has to be good enough to cover the entire gambit of demographic groups, meaning every type of minority, and every age group.

This may have worked in the past…but come on. Where’s the love for sports bars watching sporting events like the NCAA Tournament, college dorm rooms, gyms with TV’s in them, and people who digitally record their shows to watch later. To their own credit, Nielson has started tracking Tivo usage…but the show only gets credit if it’s watched within the same 24 hour period it’s recorded in. Unfortunately, this period starts and ends at 3am each morning. So…the girlfriend and I always record shows like Medium and Studio 60 because we want to be asleep by the time they’re over. If we were being “sampled” (sounds kinda like being probed), we would have to watch the show before 3am (when we’re still sleeping) to qualify to give the show our rating point. I’m sorry…that’s just ridiculous.

A Better Alternative?
It’s sitting there, in your living room. It has the ability to record and send the data back to it’s source. Yes, I’m talking about your cable box or satellite box. Some of them are DVR enabled, and some aren’t. I’m betting though that it wouldn’t be that hard to come up with a program that runs inside that wondrous box that would enable you to be “sampled” so that your opinion would count. Cable companies could build it into their systems, and just ask when you sign up “Would you like to participate in ratings research by allowing us to gain data on what you’re watching?” I know I’d be willing to sign up and give over my age, gender, how much I make, my eye color, my shoe size, my hobbies, etc to be able to be polled. Heck, why not make it like websites. You’d get hits, and then minutes stayed (equivalent to pageviews).

Companies have tried. Companies like Cableclik, SMART TV, and ErinMedia. Problem is, the large networks all back Nielson because…well, probably because Nielson ratings back them. Nielson’s extremely expensive, so it can’t be because these other startups would be more expensive. To say that Nielson is a monopoly…well, that might be correct. There certainly isn’t an easy path to any contenders with better technology and better ideas. Mostly, Nielson is content to sit back on their laurels, only really trying new ideas and innovations with technology when really challenged by a would be competitor. Hopefully someone will pony up the goods to get something better soon. Otherwise, we’ll soon be treated to nothing but Reality TV and Gameshows exposing the ignorance and stupidity of our country when measured against Kindergartners.

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