The Nielsen TV rating system uses 25,000 households in different demographic areas of the country and each household is given a black box to monitor the viewing habits. The households are warned not to change their viewing habits juts to try and make a favorite TV program look good. The households are selected by Nielsen which uses a secret formula to determine which households would make the best candidates. In addition the households are sworn to secrecy that they have a black box from Nielsen, so that they will not be hassled by family, friends, or coworkers to watch a favorite show.

In a recent article it also states that:

So why doesn’t Nielsen just collect data from all of the millions of set-top cable TV boxes around the country?

According to Jon Gibs, Nielsen’s senior vice president for analytic and insights he states:

You know, I think overall, there’s some very interesting stuff that’s come out of set-top box data. [But] there’s some very difficult challenges with using that dataset. You don’t know how many people are watching the TV show at a given time, [just] if the set-top box is on or off. It’s difficult to know if someone is still watching the program or not. We still appreciate the granularity of the data, but accuracy is important. [Ratings data] is the measure of accounting for the TV industry… This is what dollars and cents are being traded upon.

And then there’s the DVR issue. Gibs claims that Nielsen collects data about what shows you’re watching on your DVR the same way other television-viewing is recorded. But Amel insists that actually, Nielsen has no way of knowing what you’re watching on a DVR. “All they can say is, [people] are watching ‘the DVR channel.'” The data on DVR viewing is all extrapolated. And Nielsen assumes that people mostly watch DVR-ed programs within a week, which isn’t necessarily true.

And that gets to the heart of the most important critique of Nielsen — the company isn’t moving fast enough to keep up with the way in which most of us actually do watch television. Not just DVRs, but also video on demand, and viewing online via services like Hulu, iTunes and Netflix instant. Gibs admits that Nielsen isn’t moving as quickly as some broadcasters and advertisers would like to take account of these trends.

I don’t know about you, but I can not remember the last time I had to sit through watching ads wince most everything I watch is from the DVR. Take America’s Got Talent finale. There was no way I was going to sit through all of the ads, nor did I want to watch the acts that were used to fill-in while we rated for the results. I checked the ratings over at Nielsen for AGT, which showed about 10 million watched the finale.

I watched it as well, but on my own terms. No ads, no junk, just the facts on who won.

What about you? How do you watch the tube?

Comments welcome.

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