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Nielsen Changes Its Definition of “TV Watching” to Reflect How People Actually Watch TV

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I’m about to say something that will blow your mind. You ready? A lot of people nowadays don’t have cable. And yet they still watch TV shows! I know, I know. I’ll give you a second to recover from the shock. Remember to breathe.

OK, so the fact that a large number of people watch some, if not all, of their TV shows through an Internet-connected TV instead of stumping for an often outrageously priced cable package isn’t exactly new. But apparently it’s quite the discovery for the Nielsen Company, which is just now getting around to changing its definition of “TV viewing” to include this newfangled thing called “The Internet.”

A show’s Nielsen rating is determined by the viewing habits of the approximately 23,000 “Nielsen families” who have a Nielsen box attached to their TV. But if one of those families watches a show using an Internet-connected device, say, an Xbox, it doesn’t count towards the show’s ratings. Understandably, networks don’t like that.

Nielsen has moved with the times a bit in that they now count shows recorded on DVR if they’re watched up to seven days after they air. But with the decision made by the What Nielsen Measures Committee to count Internet-connected TVs in addition to ones with cable it looks like they’ve finally realized, hey, sometimes people don’t have/use cable!

Writes The Hollywood Reporter:

By September 2013, when the next TV season begins, Nielsen expects to have in place new hardware and software tools in the nearly 23,000 TV homes it samples. Those measurement systems will capture viewership not just from the 75 percent of homes that rely on cable, satellite and over the air broadcasts but also viewing via devices that deliver video from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, from so-called over-the-top services and from TV enabled game systems like the X-Box [sic] and PlayStation.

While some use of iPads and other tablets that receive broadband in the home will be included in the first phase of measurement improvements, a second phase is envisioned to include such devices in a more comprehensive fashion. The second phase is envisioned to roll out on a slower timetable, according to sources, will the overall goal to attempt to capture video viewing of any kind from any source.

Nielsen’s new plan will only include streaming services like Netflix and Amazon if they’re streamed to a TV or, eventually, tablets. And only those services that mirror traditional viewing (see: have the same commercials ) will be counted. I know that an episode streamed on Hulu will have different commercials from the broadcast version, besides which Netflix doesn’t usually release its viewership numbers, so I’m not exactly sure how this new system will work.

It’s a step in the right direction, but some viewing habits will still be excluded. A lot of people, myself included, don’t have a TV or a tablet at all. For the past three years I’ve watched TV pretty much exclusively on my computer. So when I watch Community on Hulu the day after it airs, the show still wouldn’t get credit for that. It wouldn’t anyway, because I’m not a “Nielsen family,” but… look, what I’m saying is that the ratings system is fundamentally screwed up. But I’m not sure if there’s a way it couldn’t be. People watch TV in all sorts of different ways now, and I can’t think of one way by which all of those (or a representative sample) could be counted. I’d say that any solution should be twofold: Nielsen should change how it determines ratings, but networks also need to take long, hard look at how those ratings play into their decision-making.

(via: A.V. Club)

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