Who Is Really Watching?

September 27, 2016

Posted In:

Late September is one of my favorite times of the year for a lot of reasons, but the one that matters right now is the start of Fall TV. The time when my DVR hits the max available hours for storage because I’m trying to catch so much programming. If you look at viewing trends, you’ll see that I’m not the only one whose hours spent watching TV creep up around this time of year.

For marketers using TV as an advertising tactic, one big question is just how many people are actually watching. Nielsen, one of the companies that provides ratings data to advertisers and marketing agencies, is working to get more precise in answering that question.

Depending on where you live, measurement to determine how many people are watching happens at different times of the year. In some markets, digital data from boxes on television sets around the market is collected every day of the year, while in other markets, Nielsen relies on viewers keeping a diary of TV watching - a paper diary that the person has to remember to fill out. The accuracy of the paper diaries is somewhat questionable.

That’s where the new measurement system comes in. No more using paper diaries to determine viewer numbers; the numbers are calculated using only the digital data from the set top boxes. Nielsen is rolling this system out in waves, and they recently announced their plan to eliminate paper diaries by early 2018.

Indianapolis stopped using paper diaries in January of this year and the change has caused some fluctuations. There is much debate about the accuracy of the numbers and extrapolating local viewing based on trends in another market viewed to be similar to Indianapolis, but the reality is that this is how ratings are now calculated. Some stations saw gains and some saw losses. Does the new system really change who is watching what program? No. The numbers may have changed, but the market adjusts to the new rating system. If TV advertising was getting your company noticed with the old ratings system, it will continue to get you noticed with the new ratings system. We’re just counting differently.

Now, go enjoy peak TV while it lasts…which may be longer than projected. And although I am perennially wrong on picking ratings winners (I’ve never watched Survivor and I thought Flash Forward was fabulous) my pick for this year is Designated Survivor. And with that, I’m off to set my DVR.