When Arthur Nielsen first started metering television with his Audimeter, there were only 200 TV sets in use world wide. Originally, the Nielsen system was meant to measure brand advertising analysis for radio in the 30’s. When the Nielsen system established itself in 1950, the average home had 1 television and received three networks. I’m betting someone back then probably was saying “With all these channels, and there’s still nothing on!”
As a society, we’ve grown beyond the constraints of the television itself. We now watch our favorite shows not only when we want, but where and how we want. We have shows streaming on the internet to our laptops, desktops, phones and even streaming into our televisions now! Who knows what else will come up.
Modern times are starting to tear apart that standard system of what time a show airs and what day. As this methodology of watching shows develops, I predict that the Friday night time slots will no longer be the death knell it’s known for but just a quaint myth.
That’s because at that time, the only real rating system won’t be when or what hour something is on, but just how good is it and how many people viewed the program in total across all mediums.
Up until recently, the Nielsen system was what our favored television shows lived and died by. The specific little niche of randomly selected “Nielsen Families” decided the fates of what many determined to be good shows while reality drabble, as some would call it, raged and still dominates the programming. And that’s because what “the ratings tell the advertisers.”
But now advertisers, those who pay the money to get our entertainment produced, have to play catch up and try to capture the computer and mobile device demographics if they are going to succeed at selling products to the audience. And we have to face it, advertisers are those responsible for the programming that comes to air. It’s a necessary evil.
Dare I say, with the advent of streaming content, I am just counting the days when we can say goodbye to the Nielsen family. They’ve been a massive thorn in the side of most decent fantasy and science fiction programming for a long time. As time goes on, the content and appreciation factor for any program will be what matters. Not when it airs.
Networks Are Not Waiting For Nielsen To Catch Up
Broadcast networks and media buying agencies are looking at creating a new ratings system and it’s called The Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement (CIMM). This system is looking to create a commitment to creating a new data research system.
They think of themselves as the alternative to the Nielsen system and include 14 companies looking to make a dent in this niche business of figuring out where the viewers are.
CIMM includes the following entities:
- Jeff Bewkes, Chairman and CEO, Time Warner
- George Bodenheimer, President of ESPN and ABC Sports, and Co-Chair, Disney Media Networks
- Nick Brien, President & CEO, Interpublic Group’s Mediabrands
- Chase Carey, Deputy Chairman, President and COO, News Corporation
- Philippe Dauman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Viacom
- Laura Desmond, CEO, Starcom MediaVest Group Worldwide
- Dina Howell, Vice President, Global Media & Brand Operations, The Procter & Gamble Company
- Laura Klauberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media, Unilever
- Esther Lee, Senior Vice President, Brand Marketing and Advertising, AT&T
- Sir Martin Sorrell, Group Chief Executive, WPP, holding company for GroupM
- Anne Sweeney, President, Disney-ABC Television Group and co-chair, Disney Media Networks
- Nancy Tellem, President, CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group
- Page Thompson, CEO, North America, Omnicom Media Group
- David M. Zaslav, President and CEO, Discovery Communications
- Jeff Zucker, President and CEO, NBC Universal.
And as you see, they’re not just small fry folk looking to make a name for themselves.
As CIMM develops its data recording processes, they’re looking to not only capture viewing data, but to make it public.
Initially, they’re going to conduct pilot studies on collecting data across the various viewing platforms, and in the process, would open the doors for companies to submit their ideas. In fact, they’re even looking at proposals that Nielsen is submitting.
Shows have been dropped, viewers alienated and networks frustrated as ratings (the typical set of ratings) have been dropping. But the ratings drop off of live viewing, or 7-day delayed viewing are dropping due to DVR’s, online streaming and migrating over to cable networks, away from the standard classic networks.
In fact, CIMM is due to meet with Nielsen, TNS, Rentrak, Tivo and TRA to sort out how to develop methods to study viewing data. CIMM is more interested in how the different companies can bring a collaborative answer to the table, not individual efforts.
These efforts that CIMM are leading are a massive step forward from the antiquated mindset that Nielsen had about not adding weights to their numbers to represent DVR households or thinking that “adding weights for the presence of a personal computer or Internet access in under-represented households would provide ‘no significant change or enhancement’ to its national TV ratings sample.” The system has worked well for many years, but it’s time to come up for air and smell the roses.
Two Sets Of Eyes Are Better Than One
Another issue that CIMM inadvertently addresses is having a 2nd source of statistical data. There have been times when Nielsen has had server issues and data doesn’t come out the next day. It’s not often, but it happens and a 2nd source of information would be a wonderful backup to the process.
Having a 2nd source to back you up can’t always be a bad thing. One point I’m thinking of was when Nielsen was sued by a television station whose viewer numbers dropped 40% after what they called an inaccurate ratings statement. In this, and any future cases, a 2nd source can’t be a bad thing at all!
Is There Hope?
To be honest, hope is a non-issue. The technology is pushing the system towards what it will be and it needs to keep up, regardless of who sets ratings. As far as desired air dates / days, I dare say that some day it won’t matter what day a show plays on. Instead, television programming will have premiere dates for episodes and it will be up to us to program it up to watch when we have the time.
Until then, we watch while we live in this unique time in history when the television box starts to vanish into the mist of history. The history where somewhere in our future, someone is going to look at a picture of a TV and say, “Wow, how the heck did they ever deal with those things?”