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What to Read This Weekend: How Nielsen Works

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If you’re only going to read one article this weekend, then let it be this neat magazine-style story about the Nielsen ratings system from iO9. The article features lots and lots of Star Trek pictures (it’s a Sci-Fi blog, after all), as well as some neat nuggets like this first hand-report from a former Nielsen family member:

“We weren’t to tell people or accept gifts or otherwise be persuaded to watch a certain show… We did make sure to watch Buffy and Angel in syndicated repeats, and made a special effort to watch the first season of the Venture Bros, which did need just another household or two to put it over the top. And it worked.”

iO9 writer Charlie Jane Anders makes a notes that Nielsen’s traditional TV ratings system is eventually going to be obsolete with the growing importance of online video, while at the same time putting things into perspective (people watch a lot of Hulu, but they still watch a whole lotta more broadcast and cable TV). What’s missing is the fact that online video measurement is in itself still an evolving science — something that became evident earlier this year when both CBS (s CBS) and ESPN3 (s DIS) claimed to have shown the Internet’s biggest sporting event.

Still, the article is a great read, if only for the fact that it really, really makes you want to have one of those slightly retro-futuristic looking black Nielsen measurement boxes in your living room.

Want to learn more about the future of media measurement in an online television world? Then make sure to check out our NewTeeVee Live conference, coming up on November 10, where we will have none other than Nielsen’s EVP of media audience measurement Matt O’Grady talking about these issues.

3 Responses to “What to Read This Weekend: How Nielsen Works”

  1. Scott Jensen

    A few things I gleamed from that article.

    1) If you want to help your favorite TV show and are not a Nielsen family, watch it online. It is the only way you can make your “voice” heard. If you’re overly active, work to start up a fan club that encourages all its members (who are not also Nielsen families) to watch the show online. Then again, if your club members are Nielsen family members as well, have them do both.

    2) “Males 18-49” still rule. Too bad the article doesn’t understand why. As a marketer myself, I’ll tell you why. The reason is that they are the most persuadable audience there is. They’re no longer living at home and are having to purchase stuff for the first time. They have no brand loyalty. “Women 18-49” are more experienced shoppers and are influenced by purchases made by their moms when they were younger. Just FYI, the hardest demographic to crack is senior citizens (65 to death) as their buying habit are etched in stone (in comparison to all other demographics).

    3) Live sports events are the key to the switch-over from broadcast/cable TV to online TV. What the article didn’t point out is that live sports events are also very well suited for commercial breaks. You cannot fast forward through such commercial breaks since the event is live. If Google really wanted to shake up the world, GoogleTV would bid and win the rights to the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Like how Michael Jackson brought upon the switch-over from LPs to CDs with his CD-only “Bad” album, if Google got those three, all households would switch over to online TV. Daddy has to have his Monday Night Football. ;-)

  2. NielsenEmployee

    Coming from a Nielsen TV Ratings Employee,

    According to the family that says they didn’t receive any money or gifts from Nielsen, let me be first to tell you all that is a lie. All Nielsen home received incentives to participate in the ratings. Based off the home demographics they can receive up to 50 to 200 dollars upfront and then 50 to 100 dollars every quarter from Nielsen. If your home is a family of 5 or more that family would receive 150 during the installation and then 50 dollars per quarter. To get more demographics if the family is Hispanic or African American then the money increases to 200 to 250 per family and then 50 to 100 per quarter. Note, that money adds up to extra income for the family, but what Nielsen doesn’t tell its members that participate is that once they sign that so call, not so call contract they must agree to allow Nielsen to come into the home, call the home anytime, and constant badger the home when necessary to the Nielsen equipment. Thought out my Nielsen experience I have seen many of times where homes are experience by Nielsen employees as to what shows they are watching and what shows to watch. It’s constant as a field representative, and as a field rep I can tell you guys the numbers (ratings) are so misleading that how can you determine a national rating of homes with a total of homes in the Nielsen system (ex. Houston, TX) 600 homes represents that area with all demographics including. That cannot make things accurate plus with cost of advertising in these bad times of the economy if I were head of a company looking to advertise I wouldn’t use Nielsen at all. I think Google, Apple, and maybe some other company has the idea that would end Nielsen. Oh yeah at point in the Nielsen inner circle all of the higher executives where afraid at one time of the rumors of Google getting involved in the ratings system we haven’t heard from that lately, but it would surprise me and I would welcome it if Google did get in it or another company that can produce real ratings based on the whole country and not just 1% of the country involved in the Nielsen Ratings.

    If any of you want to know more about how Nielsen operates comment here and I will give you the scoop.

  3. What exactly do we need from the portal sites that host videos in terms of analytics and how do we hope to get it if they plan on keeping their data secret? Do we have to turn to the end user like Nielson did?

    It would be interesting to survey 1000 people and find out how many have actually watched the Bannen Way. You can predict the results based on the claims made by Sony but no one has actually put it to the end user test. An N of 1000 would probably be all you need to come up with a valid statistical result. We might actually learn a lot about who is watching web series by such an analysis. This would be a lot better than relying on numbers that are potentially fatally tainted by front page autoplays.