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Not All TV Viewers Watch on TVs: Nielsen Looks at Expanding the Ratings System




retro tvI watch a lot of TV, (no surprise to anyone who reads my work) but I don’t watch all of it on a TV. I watch on my iPad. I watch Netflix through my Blu-ray player and sometimes I watch online. Even when I’m watching the TV, I’m not always watching what’s on, as I often watch shows I recorded on the DVR or shows from the On Demand menu.

To think I grew up in a world with three networks, three UHF channels and no recording capabilities.

As fast as the TV landscape is changing, the method by which we measure success has fallen far behind. TV shows are still ranked based on Nielsen ratings which measures the estimated number of people who watched a show live on a TV.

A year or so ago, they cranked it up a notch, counting Live Plus 7. That picked up everyone who recorded a show and watched it back within the week. Many TV shows benefit greatly from this added count. Earlier this month, CBS’s detective series Elementary gained 4.27 million viewers when Nielsen added in the extra 7 days. Since ratings equal revenue (in the form of ad dollars), that gain is extremely important.

Networks such as The CW struggle to compete in the ratings but they get a boost from the millions of young viewers who tune in to their shows online or download them on iTunes. If that’s your target audience then the old school ratings system won’t help you find the most popular shows.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Nielsen is seriously considering another change in the ratings system. This time, they want to expand beyond the wired TV, counting views on other devices such as gaming systems, tablets and computers. They could, in time, include ratings from online sources such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant.

This is great news for both the TV industry and TV fans because it means a clearer picture of how shows are really performing across all platforms.

On a larger scale, this is an indication of where we’re heading with all types of marketing measurements. We can’t just look at how many people logged on from their computer. We need to count the smartphone users and the tablet users. The ones who visit your social media pages and who share what they found there with others. Straight traffic into a site isn’t a measure of success. Neither is 5,000 followers on your Facebook page. We have to look at how consumers are interacting with the brand across the board. That’s how you find out whether or not what you’re doing is working.

And maybe after Nielsen gets their new system up and running, networks will stop canceling my favorite shows just because people watch them on a device that isn’t a traditional TV.