The Nielsen, Pinta and the Santa Maria – calling 1952.

While this post is about how viewers are ultimately measured, its also about the ad agencies and then their clients, the ‘big brands’ that are being billed monthly for advertising their brand on various TV outlets and others big media sources. 

Nielsen uses a technique called statistical sampling to rate the shows — the same technique that pollsters use to predict the outcome of elections. Nielsen creates a “sample audience” and then counts how many in that audience view each program. Nielsen then extrapolates from the sample and estimates the number of viewers in the entire population watching the show. That’s a simple way of explaining what is a complicated, extensive process. Nielsen relies mainly on information collected from TV set meters that it installs, and then combines this information with huge databases of the programs that appear on each TV station and cable channel.

To find out who is watching TV and what they are watching, the company gets around 5,000 households to agree to be a part of the representative sample for the national ratings estimates. Nielsen’s statistics show that 99 million households have TVs in the United States, so Nielsen’s sample is not very large. The key, therefore, is to be sure the sample is representative. Then TVs, homes, programs, and people are measured in a variety of ways.

To find out what people are watching, meters installed in the selected sample of homes track when TV sets are on and what channels they are tuned to. A “black box,” which is just a computer and modem, gathers and sends all this information to the company’s central computer every night. Then by monitoring what is on TV at any given time, the company is able to keep track of how many people watch which program.

Small boxes, placed near the TV sets of those in the national sample, measure who is watching by giving each member of the household a button to turn on and off to show when he or she begins and ends viewing. This information is also collected each night.

The national TV ratings largely rely on these meters.

Are 5,000 ‘samples’ really representative of what 100 million TV sets are ‘watching’  24 hours a day?? Someone in the household ‘pushes’ a button on a black box when he or she ends or begins viewing? I can barely get to my show on time never mind finding a button to push in the house on a little black box. Since I’m assuming that you, who are reading this right now are included in this statistic, have a TV and fall into place with these TV ‘habits’ or statistics from Nielsen ? I’m not finding fault with Nielsen. But you have to wonder how seriously does one take the ‘Nielsen’ ratings. Can’t this be done in a more accurate, better way in 2008?

I can’t help but ask: Somehow, somewhere and in some possible way, can’t the internet make this data somewhat more accurate? Am I asking too much? Comments please.