Many fans--and marketers and producers--are wondering what the latest decision from Nielsen Media Research will mean for their ratings now that Nielsen has started counting views from college students.
Starting yesterday, Nielsen will be counting the viewing of students who are living away from their households for the first time in ratings history. How will college viewing skew the results? Will it make a significant difference? Of course, it's a benefit to any show who draws a significant number of young adult viewers and shows that would be popular among a college crowd. Perhaps, if there are shows that are popular for the demographic but not necessarily among college viewers, it could be a detriment as well.
The sample will be from Nielsen families who agreed to let a meter be put in at the student's dorm room. Approximately 450 families from the Nielsen sample include college students, and about 30 percent of them agreed to let their students be involved. (Some families could not because the students did not have a TV in their dorm room). And advertisers and networks alike may be thrilled to include a segment of the audience that do not use DVRs nearly as much as the national average (which still remains pretty low, by the way, at about 13 percent).
The fallout is yet to be determined, but the move is a key one. Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox, The CW, and Adult Swim (the adult programming block on Cartoon Network) are all particularly estimated to see an increase in viewers, since the shows on these networks seem to do well among college viewers. In fact, Turner Broadcasting--the company that owns The Cartoon Network--is cited as the first company to officially approach Nielsen about measuring college viewers. Turner and MTV Networks, two organizations that stand to benefit substantially from the inclusion of college viewers, are members of the consortium but have not been consulted regarding the issue.
In particular, mtvU, the MTVN network dedicated exclusively to college campuses, could have a more standardized way to start measuring views, since Nielsen previously did not cover their viewers.
In Monday's New York Times, journalist Louise Story writes, "It's too early to know how much more advertisers will pay for shows with larger audiences because of the college ratings. Network executives, of course, said they expect to be paid for the higher ratings. If advertisers decide to spend more on shows that demonstrate high college viewership, TV networks may decide to dedicate more of their schedule programming to college tastes."
Of course, this also means that networks will more aggressively pursue college
students as well and that marketing campaigns for networks may start pointing toward college audiences now that it can make a difference in the ratings.
Story's article addresses a central concern among advertisers as to how close college students are paying attention to programming, even if they have it on, and there are still questions raised about the programs that people are viewing on campus through the Internet.
Another point made by Story is that "the change will affect the perception of viewing behavior, particularly for viewers 18 to 24. College students, for example, watch more television during the day, when young people not in college are more likely to be at work."
This has led those interested in daytime viewing to question what it means for daytime programming, which long had ignored college viewers when it comes to Nielsens for this very reason. In particular, soap opera fans are discussing these ratings and wondering what it means, if anything, for measuring soaps viewing and also for how much soaps will focus on college audiences.
At one time, especially before cable provided so many alternatives, soap opera viewing was significant on campus and still probably adds in viewers not currently counted.
This is the first among many steps for reform for Nielsen that we have covered before. Over the weekend, I covered the latest on Nielsen's commercial ratings and how the six streams of data the company will be offering is expected to raise plenty of questions when released in May.
Nielsen has also made moves to measure VOD programming. Back in November, I said, "I hope it will at least further drive innovation in the VOD market, where viewers are increasingly interested and where new and innovative business models may be developed." This has been launched as part of the Nielsen On-Demand Reporting and Analytics service (NORA) that I first wrote about in August.
This is all part of Nielsen's goal to eventually provide "Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement," or A2/M2. Back in June, I first wrote about A2/M2, and particularly their goal to make a shift to all-electronic recording of television viewing and finding more effective ways to measure out-of-home media viewing and non-traditional media engagements. The plan is for Nielsen to find ways to measure television viewing on the Internet, cell phones, iPods, and other mobile devices. There are also plans to create an "Active/Passive meter which measure all-time-and-place shifted viewing." About this, I wrote, "Measuring depth of experience seems to be preferable to just getting overall impression numbers, but those are tough things to quantify."
As for college viewers, this can only be seen as a positive for a more accurate sample of American television viewing habits, although the Nielsen samples are in many ways still pretty inaccurate when it comes to measuring an increasingly splintered television experience.