Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Nielsen, Networks, and Netflix

As much as I love television, there are moments when I really hate it. I don't necessarily mean the actual programming (though Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is furthering my loss of faith in humanity) but rather the numbers side of things.  Most of my favorite shows are critical darlings but if you went by the numbers, you'd think these shows had the same quality as an episode of Cop Rock. The problem here isn't that no one is watching the show, but rather that those who are aren't being recorded. The Nielsen Ratings system fails to account for online viewing, illegal viewing (the bread and butter of college students), delayed DVR playback, and other viewing habits. And don't even get me started on the whole "Nielsen Family" system of recording. 

Obviously, Nielsen isn't keeping up with the times. With literally EVERYTHING online, it seems ridiculous that those numbers aren't necessarily being taken into account when networks are pondering the fate of a show. All this makes Netflix fascinating to me. Netflix has breathed new life into old television shows and gives audiences the chance to marathon seasons of shows and bring themselves up-to-date on the most recent episodes. But another way Netflix is pulling a television game-changer (and similarly, sites like Hulu+) is through the creation of original programming. House of Cards, a remake of a BBC show and starring Kevin Spacey, is currently the most-watched show in the Netflix library. And for many like myself, Netflix is the glorious savior that will resurrect Arrested Development in May for at least thirteen episodes. That show went off the air in 2006 due to low-rating but experienced a rekindled popularity when the entire series was put on --yep, you guessed it-- Netflix. 

So how does the system account for shows that refuse to even be a part of the system? These shows can't be quantified through traditional means and they obviously don't care to be. Can you imagine a world where there was more programming done online than on-air? If that's where so many people are viewing their entertainment, it makes sense for audiences to go right to the source when they're looking for a new show. The Nielsen system has recording viewing habits since the 1950s and it seems like they're perpetually stuck there. For years, I've been frustrated that my favorite shows weren't getting the same treatment just because skewed statistics weren't giving them a fair chance. I've been waiting for the day when Nielsen and friends would change the way the game was played. Turns out it's more satisfying to just break the rules and create a whole new game instead.  


  1. Nielsen is lame and outdated--has been for years and long before the internet boom of tv watching. It's a pity it has any bearing at all on programming. Especially since viewers pay it zero attention. I can absolutely foresee a world in which all "tv" is viewed online. It's where I live right now. . . .

  2. Did you see the development this week? http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/21/tvs-connected-to-the-internet-to-be-counted-by-nielsen/.