WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Folly of TV News Ratings

Jun 3, 2014

The Shop Talk panelists discuss the problems with television viewership numbers as measured during so-called “sweeps” periods.

Viewership is theoretically more heavily monitored during sweeps periods, and the resulting numbers are used by stations to set advertising rates.

But Mediabistro reported on the case of a station that complained the numbers are inaccurate: “Boston ABC affiliate WCVB is telling its advertisers it’s not the station’s fault the ratings have dropped recently, it’s because the people who count the viewers are doing it wrong.”

In a separate story, Mediabistro reported Nielsen plans to expand its sample size, at least in bigger markets.  But the Shop Talk panelists believe the system in general is flawed.

Jasmine Crighton said she’s never been a fan of ratings or sweeps periods. She’s known people who’ve lost their jobs over ratings despite the flaws in the measuring system.

Rich Egger questioned whether a representative cross-section is being measured in most communities.  He thinks most of the diaries and other means of measuring ratings probably end up in white households.

He also said TV newscasts often sensationalize stories during sweeps period in hopes of drawing a larger audience.

Lisa Kernek wondered how and if on-line viewership is being tracked, especially on sites such as Netflix and Hulu.