Friday, May 15, 2009

Dear Nielsen Diary...

Sitting on my desk right now is a Nielsen TV Ratings Viewing Diary. Being a geeky entertainment biz follower, I am way more excited than I should be. They apparently send out 1.6 million of these things during sweeps periods, but I feel like I've won the lottery. To be fair, they didn't actually send the Diary to me. I shouldn't really have it. It probably violates their rules and messes with their data that I have it. The fact is that the TV Viewing Diary was sent to a friend of mine who doesn't watch TV at all and who knows that I am a big fan of TV and guessed that I would love having a Nielsen Ratings Diary. And she doesn't care at all about TV ratings, so she doesn't care if this messes them up, and I am more than happy to mess up the Nielsen ratings in my favor.

For those who don't know, the Nielsen Ratings are essentially the only measure that the TV industry has of how many people watch which TV shows. Knowing this number is obviously important for the business, helping them figure out how much to charge advertisers and whether or not to cancel or continue showing a series. Nielsen Ratings are gathered two ways: through "Set Meters" installed on the TVs of selected households and through these "Diaries". Ratings for a given TV program are usually reported with two numbers, the rating and the share. Rating is the percentage of the total number of U.S. households with TVs (currently about 114.5 million) that are watching the program. Share is the percentage of the U.S. television sets in use at the time of the program that are tuned to the program. For instance, last week's most watched program, the American Idol results show, had a 13.7/21, meaning that 13.7% of the TV-owning households in the U.S. were watching it, and 21% of the TVs on at that time were tuned to the show (kind of sad...). In many cases, though, what the TV business types care about is what a show's ratings are in the demo--that is, in the 18-49 age demographic, a group believed to be more receptive to advertising and thus more valuable to the advertisers. So while CBS's CSI typically wins Thursday night in total viewers, ABC's Grey's Anatomy usually gets higher ratings in the 18-49 demo and can thus charge more for advertising (last night's season finale was actually an exception because Grey's narrowly beat CSI in overall viewers as well as in the demo).

Anyway, I currently have for myself a Nielsen Diary to do with as I please. The diary came in an envelope along with a letter, directions for keeping the diary, and a dollar bill, which I already spent on dinner last night (crab cakes, mmmm; perhaps I should have given the dollar back to my friend, but I was low on singles and they always come in handy when you're splitting a restaurant bill). Anyway, having a Nielsen Diary is really a bit like having a voting ballot. If you think about it, most of us don't have representation in the politics of TV programming. We may be watching a show, but no one knows we're watching (unless we join some desperate campaign to get a show renewed, as in this year's Five dollar foot-long campaign for Chuck). We have to rely on other people with Set Meters to watch the same things we like. It's like deciding an election based on polls! So to me, getting my hands on this Diary is like gaining the right to vote.

Unfortunately, I'm getting this ballot at the very end of the May sweeps period. The Diary is for the week starting Thursday, May 14. Almost all of my TV shows have ended for the season. Desperate Housewives has its season finale on Sunday and How I Met Your Mother's season finale is on Monday, though they are already locked in for renewal and don't really need my vote (but I'll of course list them in the diary anyway). Other than that, all I plan to watch this week is Jeopardy and Ellen. Shows that could have used my support--Chuck, Dollhouse, Castle, Sarah Connor Chronicles--have ended for the season, so I can't do anything to tell the Nielsen Ratings that I was here watching (though note that the latest word on the Dollhouse front is hopeful). It's a bit like turning 18 on November 5, 2008. Alas.

I was originally planning on segueing into a discussion of the season finales of some of my favorite shows, but I've decided that would make this post seem pretty random and rambling (not that that has alwasy stopped me before, but...). My season finale discussion will get its own post next.


Sebastian said...

Neat! Shame about the timing... couldn't have been worse... pretty ironic. Maybe someone up there was listening in to your intentions of cheating...

I have inside'ish info on Dollhouse also being renewed, so that's good news!

The only show I'm really curious about is 24... I have avoided any news on the topic, as it might still end this season... it would make sense if it ends this season... Still 1 or 2 episodes remaining, we'll see!!

Eleni said...

Yeah, I was bummed about the timing.

Inside-ish info? That's intriguing-ish. I'm keeping hopeful, though. Could it be that FOX learned its lesson from Firefly (though, sorry Dollhouse, Firefly was the show more deserving of renewal).

Still have never watched 24 and hadn't noticed it was in danger, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

Eleni said...

Ah, boy am I slow. If 24 has an episode on the 18th, I could jot it down in my Diary. Probably won't make any difference whatsoever, but it's better than just "crossing my fingers".