Tag Archives: Nielsen Ratings

The Margin Of Error

One bit of my old life as a broadcaster that I seem unable to leave behind is the ratings. TV ratings – and specifically those from Nielsen – are the currency of the TV ad business and billions of dollars of media are bought and sold based on these numbers. What caught my eye this morning was the reporting of last week’s late night ratings and the analysis connected to the report. The writer did a good job dissecting the numbers except that they conveniently failed to mention one thing that should be instructive to any of us in business: the margin of error.

English: Graph showing weekly Nielsen Ratings ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What the author failed to mention is that there was no statistical significance between the reported audiences in any of the numbers that Nielsen was reporting. Since the numbers discussed in the piece were Adult 18-49 numbers, the reporting is based on a subsample of Nielsen’s panel, meaning that the margin of error is wider than on all the ratings as a whole. While I don’t have a rating book in front of me, I know there always used to be a disclaimer in every book explaining that the numbers it contains are only accurate up to a point. They’re estimates. When we’re looking at number this small (and the late-night numbers are in tenths of a point), it’s just as possible that the network reported in third place could, in fact, have more viewers than the network reported as in first place.

The point here isn’t to denigrate the ratings system (I’ll save that for another screed). The point is to remind each of us that almost every piece of data that we look at needs to be taken in context and with appropriate disclaimers. What I find helpful is to pay attention to trends and not to absolutes. The only numbers without a margin of error are those pertaining to actual money received and actual money spent, and even those are generally only snapshots of a moment in time.

The next time someone comes to you with a data point, ask about the margin of error or about any factors that could affect that data. New visitors to your website are up? What percentage of people routinely delete cookies and, therefore, seem to be new when they’re not. App installs are up? How many people deleted the app last week, was that an increase, and could the new installs, in fact, be reinstalls? See what I mean?

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Ratings Are Back-Assward

I saw something this morning with which I agree totally. It’s a statement, reported in MediaPost, by Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond about how media is measured and how consumers’ multi-screen consumption makes the traditional methods far less useful. As she said: “We need to invest in new measurement techniques for brands.”  That’s right, except that for the most part what we hear about has nothing to do with brands.  In fact, what we do now, and what I expect the industry will do in the future is completely backward.  Let me explain.

When you read about the most-viewed content of the week, have you ever seen a mention of a commercial?  Nope.  It’s all about programs – The Voice or Idol or Duck Dynasty.  The measurements, as Ms. Desmond said, tend to be channel-specific and, therefore, might not reflect all of the consumption that’s occurring.  The point that’s missed from a marketing perspective is that brands use these ratings to estimate how many times their ad was seen and what value they derived from their investment.  My question is this:

Why are we measuring for one thing and reporting for another?

If what we’re after is how many people are seeing a message, why do we care about the vehicle in which that message is delivered?  The industry makes the programming entities measure themselves (fair, since that’s who’s getting paid to deliver the message) but then assumes everyone watching sees the message (OK, I know some folks adjust the numbers slightly but humor my rant here, please).  Why aren’t we working on a system where a brand message carries some sort of tag across all channels that would allow all the impressions to aggregate?  Further, those tags could be used much like cookies to track conversions.  Since it’s the brands that pay for the impressions, should it be their own results that are tracked?

If the industry follows Ms. Desmond’s thinking and does invest in new techniques to measure cross-channel results, they’ll have a hard time if what they’re measuring are programs.  Many programs aren’t in all the places brands want to go.  Some are sold by different sales entities across channels.  It’s backward to measure an inconsistent series of channels instead of the consistent brand who is paying the bills.

What do you think?

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Something Had To Give

I know it’s Friday and we usually do something food-related, but since we covered a food topic earlier this week, today it’s media.  There was an interesting piece earlier this week about the changing viewing habits of younger folks.  Not surprisingly, at least to me, is what the Nielsen study found and I want to share it with you today in case you missed it.  I suppose that the main point is that there are only 24 hours in a day, and even if you DVR or otherwise capture 96 hours worth of content in those 24 hours, you still have to find the time to watch it.  But here are the facts and you tell me what you think. Continue reading

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Filed under digital media

Oy Vey – A Survey

Citizens registered as an Independent, Democra...

As one might expect a couple of weeks before an election, the air is filled with the sound of pollsters. I don’t know about you but we get called almost every day (and night) to answer some poll about our voting intentions (absolutely), our choice of candidate (not you if you don’t stop calling), and our basic demography (I’m a 29-year-old woman with blond hair and a deep voice as far as they know).
Political polls aren’t the only kind you read about, and involve in your business, every day. TV ratings are polls, as are almost all media data. So it’s good to keep a few things in mind as you see the data. Continue reading

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Don’t Believe The Hype


It’s nice that a lot of people watched the Super Bowl on Sunday.  In fact, there are a ton of reports out about how it was “the most watched event in TV history.”  I’m sure that’s true, or as true anything that comes out of the very imperfect system of TV ratings can be.  This piece from Media Post is typical of the reporting that’s out there.  Most of them would lead the typical reader to believe that this game set all kinds of viewing records.  Well, in terms of raw numbers of people viewing, it did.  But how about a little perspective as a good lesson in how you need to read carefully. Continue reading

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks, sports business


The Nielsen Company

The latest Nielsen Three Screen Report is out this morning. In a nutshell:

During 2nd Quarter 2009, the number of people watching mobile video increased 70% from last year and people who watch video on line increased their viewing by 46% compared to a year ago. In addition, the average American TV consumption remains at an all-time high (141 hours per month) compared to the same time frame last year.

Great, except they’ve got it backwards. Continue reading

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Old at being young
Young at being old
Everything’s on hold within our evolution

Barenaked Ladies

When I first started selling TV in 1978, there was a big push to get agencies to buy on demo ratings instead of just household impressions.  Over time, the notion of buying on audience segments became more accepted and today it seems as if I hear more about the 18-49 numbers than I do about households.  Except that there’s one problem. Continue reading

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