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Television Entertainment

The Nielsen Family Is Dead 170

Posted by Soulskill
from the radio-star's-family-suspected-in-revenge-plot dept.
An anonymous reader writes "An article at Wired walks us through how the so-called Nielsen Family, responsible for deciding which shows were good and which were flops since the '70s, isn't the be-all, end-all of TV popularity anymore. Quoting: 'Over the years, the Nielsen rating has been tweaked, but it still serves one fundamental purpose: to gauge how many people are watching a given show on a conventional television set. But that's not how we watch any more. Hulu, Netflix, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Roku, iTunes, smartphone, tablet—none of these platforms or devices are reflected in the Nielsen rating. (In February Nielsen announced that this fall it would finally begin including Internet streaming to TV sets in its ratings.) And the TV experience doesn't stop when the episode ends. We watch with tablets on our laps so we can look up an actor's IMDb page. We tweet about the latest plot twist (discreetly, to avoid spoilers). We fill up the comments section of our favorite online recappers. We kibitz with Facebook friends about Hannah Horvath's latest paramour. We start Tumblrs devoted to Downton decor. We're engaging with a show even if we aren't watching it, but none of this behavior factors into Nielsen's calculation of its impact.'"
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The Nielsen Family Is Dead

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:28AM (#43221231)

    I look at the pirate sites to see what's popular on TV. That's a truer reflection of what the general public wants to watch, because the seed and leech count isn't some complex proprietary formula. While fakes do pop up, with companies trying to poison the peer population to discourage downloading, the protocol is self-correcting and it is really just further evidence of its popularity. It represents an intentional and willful effort to watch these shows, not just a casual interest because it feels less lonely than leaving the TV on to blare commercials while you do something else. If you want to know which shows are popular, not just locally, but internationally then torrent sites are really the best measure of a show's actual popularity. And it's not limited to TV either; A movie's true popularity is also reflected in the download count, moreso than an imdb rating.

    You can't trust for-profit organizations to give fair an unbiased numbers -- for enough money, they're only too happy to rig the system. There's companies whose sole reason for existance is to push books onto the New York Times' best seller lists. Because sales data and other information is all kept hidden behind a wall of corporate proprietary data, it's possible to rig the system.

    The pirates... you can't rig the system. Either it's popular, or it isn't. No games, no bullshit.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:31AM (#43221245) Homepage

    These days Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, etc. know not only if you watched a show, but how many times you watched it, where you paused, which parts you re-watched, etc. (FYI, hook up Wireshark or Firefox's web console and see for yourself what information is being logged!)

    The quantity and quality of the data is better than ever. As more people switch from broadcast and cable to online streaming, why would you need a random sample like the "Nielsen family"? It seems so blunt compared to the accurate real-time data that streaming services can provide.

  • by gmhowell (26755) <gmhowell@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @02:43AM (#43221281) Homepage Journal

    I look at the pirate sites to see what's popular on TV. That's a truer reflection of what the general public wants to watch, because the seed and leech count isn't some complex proprietary formula.

    The demographic that gets/views torrents is skewed towards the technologically minded. Contrary to the prevailing slashdot wisdom, this site is not 'the general public'. Sure, the actual general public is closer to the slashdot demo than, say, 15 years ago, but they are not identical.

    The problem with pirate sites is monetization. Let's suppose that the number of downloads of Game of Thrones from The Pirate Bay is the most accurate assessment of its popularity. Further, let's posit that 90% of the views come from that. Why does it matter to HBO? How do they recoup the development costs from a TPB viewer? And it matters not whether it is HBO, A&E, or NBC. Someone has to pay actors, writers, directors, etc. Until there is a better method of determining paying customers/viewers, there is still some relevance to traditional ratings. How much and to what degree, we can argue (well, you can. I'm not interested in those minutiae).

    So yes, the viewership through pirate sites is interesting for help in determining popularity, but not necessarily in determining what gets made. The reign of 'non-scripted' shows as an example, is as much due to decreased costs of production (especially avoiding the WGA and DGA) at least as much, if not more than how popular they are.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @03:01AM (#43221347)

    Nielsen has one and only purpose - to help price ad-time buys. Shows on bittorrent have had the ads stripped out. The people watching those versions might as well not exist for all that Nielsen's customers care.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @03:39AM (#43221477)

    The demographic that gets/views torrents is skewed towards the technologically minded.

    Then explain to me the popularity of Jersey Shore on the Pirate Bay.

    Contrary to the prevailing slashdot wisdom, this site is not 'the general public'.

    I'm sorry, you make me choke on my mountain dew. Slashdot? Wisdom? I think you have this site confused for another. And besides, we weren't talking about slashdot, we were talking about The Pirate Bay, which is the 73rd most visited site on the internet according to Alexia. But please, continue...

    The problem with pirate sites is monetization.

    Okay, just so we're clear: You're saying a website whose primary purpose is to allow the free distribution of copyrighted materials has a problem with monetization?

    Let's suppose that the number of downloads of Game of Thrones from The Pirate Bay is the most accurate assessment of its popularity. Further, let's posit that 90% of the views come from that. Why does it matter to HBO?

    I'm sorry, I thought we were talking about accurately assessing the popularity of a show, which is what Nielsen ratings are supposed to do. I wasn't aware that this had anything to do with the price of tea in China... or the price of an HBO subscription for that matter.

    Someone has to pay actors, writers, directors, etc.

    Again, and that has what to do with the price of tea in China? We're looking at methods of assessing the popularity of a show, and the pros and cons of each method. Who writes the paycheck out to those people has exactly dick to do with that.

    Until there is a better method of determining paying customers/viewers, there is still some relevance to traditional ratings.

    Ah. So you're moving the goal posts. Well, allow me to move them back. Let's say you're in the market for a new car. New car by definition means you're going to be buying from a dealer, or from the manufacturer. So the market for used cars is therefore totally irrelevant, right? Wrong. Even though you're going to a different seller, the laws of supply and demand apply equally to both, and the reasons people buy a used car are similar to the reasons they buy a new car. So if a car has a strong value on the used car market, it's going to have an impact on the price, and popularity, of the new car market as well. Whether the customers are paying or not may matter to the producers of the show, but it has little or no impact on whether or not the viewing public wants to watch the show. And I'm willing to bet that if 10% of Game of Thrones is pirated, then about 10% of NCIS is going to be pirated too, even though they're different shows. And if NCIS is more popular than Game of Thrones amongst the non-paying customers, it's probably going to be more popular amongst the paying customers as well because they're the same demographic.

    So yes, the viewership through pirate sites is interesting for help in determining popularity, but not necessarily in determining what gets made.

    Whoa there cowboy. Again: China. Tea. Price of. We aren't discussing the criterion for how TV shows get selected for production, we're discussing the pros and cons of a ratings system for shows that are already in production.

  • no, it's not dead (Score:5, Insightful)

    by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @03:59AM (#43221555)

    That's dumb. The main value of Nielsen is not that it measures popularity. It measures viewership of the shows (and thus ads) that air on TV.

    Ad rates are tied to Nielsen ratings. And this has not changed. So the Nielsen family is as relevant as ever.

    Sure, Hulu stats matter too, to fix the price of ads that air on Hulu.

    It's amazing how many people think that somehow because they don't watch TV that it is not longer relevant what TV ratings are.

  • by owlnation (858981) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:00AM (#43221729)
    I think this article, and probably many of the comments, shows how little people understand of how the ratings and broadcast networks' business model works.

    The "family" has been dead for years, ratings-wise. The only numbers that count -- at all -- are adults 18-49, and within that group women 18-34 are particularly valued. That's why singing and dancing competitions rule the airwaves. If you are under 18 or older than 49 your TV viewing habits do not matter to advertisers, they do not matter to networks. An 100 million kids could watch a prime time TV show, and it will still get canceled if not enough adults are watching.

    Why? Because TV networks do not have viewers as customers, it's the advertisers that pay their bills. And the advertisers have decided that those are the only age ranges worth selling to, on prime-time TV.

    Online, DVD sales, international sales do NOT bring any revenue whatsoever to TV networks, and no matter how popular a show is off of a US TV set, it is worthless if it does not have an high rating in the key demo. Unless -- and only, unless -- the Network is also the production company for that show. (but most are not) Production companies do make money from DVDs online purchases, rights and online ads -- so a company (such as amazon or Hulu) can bypass the Networks and produce successfully online, as is now happening.

    I do disagree with the advertisers age ranges, and feel they could monetize the younger and older audiences as well. But I do also understand why they feel they can reach these audiences easily without any need to pay for expensive TV ads.

    We are probably reaching a transition point in TV viewing anyway. A business model like the MLB.TV model is one that probably works best. A worldwide 24/7 online TV channel paid for by subscription and/or advertising. It provides full demographic info in real time, allows one-click purchasing to firms, and it allows for long-tail and niche programming too. That is a much better model for advertisers and viewers -- but not too good for the network middlemen, unless they jump on that bandwagon right now.

    As an aside, similar is true for movies -- which have a totally different demographic (12-24 usually). Long, long gone are movies like "The Sand Pebbles". Why? Because adults do not go to the cinema in sufficient numbers to matter, unless they are taking their kids to see a kids movie. There is very little overlap between TV and movies in terms of significant audience. Movies are only for children, and TV is only for adults these days (and female adults mostly too, since men are easy targets through sports).
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @05:11AM (#43221759)

    Good point. I guess one could connect to the tracker and announce that they are seeding/leeching and simply drop all incoming connections. This is highly probable, though the multitude of leechers coming from the same IP / IP range is sure to tip of the tracker maintainers and BitTorrent community quite promptly. The community will likely respond with a patch to count only 1 connection per IP and to disregard counts for inactive downloads/uploads.

    Actually, just such a patch has been built into all mainstream bittorrent clients for years. Clients will only accept 1 connection at a time from a given IP address. And if the data provided is incorrect, after a certain number of bad chunks (defined in the client options, but typically around 3-5), it will be banned.

    That said, some trolls did try to interfere with the downloading DVD screener copies this past year right around the time the Emmy's were being voted on by registering thousands of fake peers with the trackers, in a sort of DDoS. The reasoning is believed to be that if they could lower the effective download rate or otherwise make it take a long time to download the torrent, people would give up. Unfortunately for them, their cunning plan failed to consider that computers do not "give up"; After a few hours, all of their fake peers had been attempted (and banned by each other participating client), so while the length of time did increase for the torrent, it was not by an appreciable amount -- it doesn't take long to send 68 byte packets to a few thousand, or even ten thousand, unique IP addresses, and you don't need to get more than a handful of non-fakes to get your download up to full speed.

    The other, more successful, method was to seed fake torrents with similar names and filesizes to the legitimate ones, thus forcing people to waste large amounts of bandwidth to get rick-rolled (proverbially speaking). The files would be corrupt, have severely distorted video and/or audio, or simply be a "Shame on you" advert repeated over and over. Very shortly after this, all the major torrent sites introduced the notion of "verified" torrents, and allowed anyone to rank a torrent, or otherwise flag it as crap. The practice has since stopped for the same reason spam e-mail usually doesn't make it through: A web of trust is a simple, yet powerful way, to sort the chaffe from the wheat.

    So while there are ways to attack the bittorrent protocol, they are expensive and only result in a small loss of time and effort. For this reason, these attacks aren't common anymore, though less-technically minded groups (I'm looking at you, form-letter enforcement companies) perenially make the attempt thinking nobody's ever done it before. :)

  • by houbou (1097327) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @07:21AM (#43222205) Journal
    the moment VHS and Beta came on the market and allowed us to tape our shows, that's when Neilsen became obsolete. That and the fact that there are certain types of shows which timeslot and popularity have no relationship. We are empowered to watch a TV on our own time by being able to record it. Neilsen ratings have been a failure for a long time, but then again, the entire sponsoring mechanism behind funding a show isn't all that good either.. Look at shows like Stargate SG-1 who didn't rely on sponsors.. lasted 10 seasons and spun off 2 other shows and direct to movie DVDs, etc..
  • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@NOspAM.world3.net> on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:04AM (#43222389) Homepage

    They should care about them because they are potential customers. Sure, some will never pay, but some would if the same media was available for a reasonable price. No ads, no DRM, just a high quality MKV for say 50 cents (Euro/US).

  • by isorox (205688) on Wednesday March 20, 2013 @08:33AM (#43222585) Homepage Journal

    I look at the pirate sites to see what's popular on TV. That's a truer reflection of what the general public wants to watch, because the seed and leech count isn't some complex proprietary formula. While fakes do pop up, with companies trying to poison the peer population to discourage downloading, the protocol is self-correcting and it is really just further evidence of its popularity. It represents an intentional and willful effort to watch these shows, not just a casual interest because it feels less lonely than leaving the TV on to blare commercials while you do something else. If you want to know which shows are popular, not just locally, but internationally then torrent sites are really the best measure of a show's actual popularity. And it's not limited to TV either; A movie's true popularity is also reflected in the download count, moreso than an imdb rating.

    You can't trust for-profit organizations to give fair an unbiased numbers -- for enough money, they're only too happy to rig the system. There's companies whose sole reason for existance is to push books onto the New York Times' best seller lists. Because sales data and other information is all kept hidden behind a wall of corporate proprietary data, it's possible to rig the system.

    The pirates... you can't rig the system. Either it's popular, or it isn't. No games, no bullshit.

    You're making the assumption that torrents are downloaded by a representative sample of the global audience. It's not, it's skewed towards "geeks"

    However neilson doesn't care about how many people watch a given tv show, they care about how many watch the adverts.

    Like it or not, American idol and the like attract a large number of viewers. These people watch it live as braindead tv, and therefore watch adverts.

    People time shifting, which I'd guess is how most people watch quality tv, will skip the adverts. People downloading never even see the adverts.

    This is a problem for networks that rely on advertising

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the demigodic party. -- Dennis Ritchie

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