Updated: July 2022
Chances are, even if you just have an interest in broadcasting and haven’t started up your educational career or professional life yet, you have heard of the Nielsen ratings. Television reports, news broadcasts and other outlets use Nielsen ratings to indicate how popular a program is. But what exactly are the Nielsen ratings and how in the world is it used to determine how popular a program is?
The Nielsen Family
A Nielsen Family doesn’t actually need to be a family to participate in the ratings process. Basically, this is someone (or a family) that has agreed to participate with Nielsen in order to keep track of every single television program he/she/they watch. It has become a bit more intricate in recent years with the onset of DVRs and Internet streaming programming. However, the families fill out the necessary paperwork and documentation in order to document what they watch.
In order to make sure there is an even demographic regarding those who participate in the Nielsen ratings, the company sends out questionnaires to those who fit the open demographic all across the country. This way, the company can obtain an idea of who is watching the show, the age, gender and even location of the individuals and families. Some are able to log onto the Nielsen website and apply for the position, but many receive something in the mail, asking if they would like to participate.
When someone signs up to take part with Nielsen, they include all sorts of information about themselves, including age, gender, race, college education, income and other variables that can help advertisers.
The Rating System
A Nielsen rating goes by percentage. In regards to a national television show, such as something on NBC, if a program receives a Nielsen rating of 15, it means that 15 percent of the public participating in the ratings service watched the television show. This means the other 85 percent either watched something else or didn’t watch television at all.
In a household that has multiple individuals and multiple televisions, the rating measures per household and not per person. This means only one person, or one television needs to be on the NBC program for it to receive the viewing vote from that house, even if four out of the five family members watched something else. Typically, Nielsen does like to go with families as it provides a variety of demographics in the same household.
The rating system works for smaller, regional stations and programs as well. It can prove helpful for local news stations in order to determine which station is more popular and at what times people are watching it (and what age demographic is watching it).
How Nielsen Ratings are Used
There are a few different reasons why the ratings are important. First off, it is essential for advertisers. An advertiser wants their ad to appear in front of more individuals and, most importantly, in front of their key demographics. The Nielsen ratings provide this sort of insight and it helps determine the cost of programming. It can also spot trends and whether or not a television show has an audience or whether next to nobody is watching it.