Sixty-seven years ago, Nielsen issued their first television audience ratings. They claimed their sample represented an accurate cross-section of U.S. geographies, markets, homes, families, people, incomes, educations, ages, ethnicities, and more.
Two ways of measuring viewing.
Meters connected to the television measured when the set was on and what channel was chosen. The big problem with meters was that they measured only on and off, and not who was watching, if anyone. Having the tv on does not mean we’re paying attention to it or even in the same room. It doesn’t mean we’re awake, either. Who hasn’t dozed off, left the room, made a phone call, or answered the door while the tv was on? To get richer data, panelists were given diaries and told to record all television viewing by all viewers at all times. Diaries were tedious and time-consuming to fill out, so they suffered from inaccurate and incomplete recording and reporting.
We don’t watch like we used to.
Cable’s hundreds of programming choices means sample sizes are far too small to be accurate any more. People watch Netflix and Hulu and YouTube, not just traditional television. Fewer people watch live broadcasts. More view on demand and on DVR. More watch on smartphones, tablets, and laptops, often away from home. Two out of three people have devices for streaming and online viewing. Who would suggest their habits are the same as those who sit in front of televisions?
Advertisers care who’s watching the ads, not the shows.
This is why they don’t like us fast-forwarding through commercials. That’s why they measure “on,” and not attention. AdWeek says Nielsen will quit using paper diaries in 2018 as soon as its electronic measurement systems are fully in place.