Space Ramblings

The Viewership Dillema

There also are technical reasons this apparent diminished interest in TV may be overstated.

This year, for the first time, Nielsen is measuring viewership in the estimated 17 percent of homes with digital video recorders — but it only counts them in the ratings of a specific show if they watch it within 24 hours of the original air time.

If you recorded “Desperate Housewives” this spring and watched it two days later, you’re not counted in the show’s ratings. And you’re not counted by Nielsen under any circumstances if you downloaded a show on iTunes and watched it on your iPod or cell phone, or streamed an episode from a network website.

Since last year’s Nielsen sample contained no DVR homes and this year’s sample does, logic dictates that fewer Nielsen families are watching TV live this year, deflating ratings.

“People are not consuming less television, they’re watching it in different ways, and the measurements haven’t caught up,” said Alan Wurtzel, chief research executive at NBC .

True in part. Ratings have fallen but viewer styles have also shifted. Sitting at home and waiting for 8:30 makes less and less sense, when you can just save the show and watch it later. That was always a factor but the technology has gotten much simpler and with the internet, has also become much more prolific.

The basic reality is the old network setup just makes no sense. Neither do the old ways of measuring it or selling ad space for it. The new TV series has to be deployed across different mediums, broadcast on the air and over the web– and sold on ITunes and DVD and the advertising for it has to be sold as a wide-ranging multi-platform package that reaches viewers in a variety of formats. The demographic will remain stable, but the means of measuring and broadcasting to them has to change.

Television has made billions based on how many people watch a show at its regular time. That idea may already be obsolete. So should the industry use DVR viewing when setting ad rates? If so, how quickly must people watch the shows — within two days? A week? What about people who watch shows on their cell phones or on network websites, which Nielsen doesn’t measure yet?

Does it matter really? If an advertiser wants a specifically timed rollout that’s one thing. Certainly ads for movie launches for example would have to be factored to take into account a short term audience. But within a month, should satisfy most product advertisers looking to sell lemon bath oils or Sony TV’s.

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