Ratings Shocker!

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As fans rally in an attempt to save their soaps, one thing that comes up time and again are questions regarding ratings. In an attempt to answer questions regarding how audience size is measured and what is -- and, perhaps more importantly, isn't -- counted when it comes to figuring out how many eyeballs a show is attracting, we went straight to the source. Here, Scott Brown, Senior Vice President of Strategies and Digital Platforms for the Nielsen company answers your most pressing questions!

While the entire conversation can be read below, two pieces of information -- answering topics most often asked of us about ratings -- are worth commenting on. The good news: According to Brown, shows viewed via TiVo or DVR within three days of their original broadcast are included in the overall Nielsen numbers. (It should be noted that as with all Nielsen information, this only applies to shows that are DVR'd or TiVo'd by those in the Nielsen pool, as detailed below.) The bad news: When it comes to shows viewed on-line -- whether via Hulu or a specific network's site -- only count if the on-line version contains the exact same commercials as the network broadcast. Why is this bad news? Because anyone who has ever watched their favorite show via an on-line site knows that in general, there are far fewer ads featured during on-line airings. Currently, none of the soaps which can be viewed on-line feature the same ads as the network broadcast, meaning that those viewing their shows in non-traditional formats are not being counted in the all-important Nielsen ratings.

For the full details on our chat with the folks at Nielsen, read more after the jump!

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Soaps In Depth: Let's start with the basics. In simple terms, how many Nielsen homes are there and how is the information gathered from those people extrapolated?
Scott Brown: There are 21,000 Nielsen National People Meter (NPM) homes in the United States. The NPM tracks what people around the country are watching at any given time. We make sure that the NPM is weighted so that it can accurately reflect the entire U.S television-viewing population. For example, we make sure the NPM represents an accurate number of men vs. women, or people at various ages and of different ethnicities.

In Depth: Is there a difference between the basic Nielsen numbers and information gathered based on DVR or TiVo views?
Brown: We are dedicated to measuring what Americans are watching, however and whenever they're watching it. With DVRs in almost 39 percent of American homes, DVR viewing is an important part of that equation. For a long time, Nielsen tracked live audience and VCR recording. Since 2007, we have tracked the live audience as well as the programs watched on DVR up to three days after the program aired live for the C3 measurement. This estimate actually looks at the commercial minutes performance to provide an average estimate of commercial viewing. Our Extended Screen Initiative is currently also measuring TV programs viewed on-line and on-demand, which will also be folded into the C3 rating.

In Depth: When it comes to what networks generally look at, do DVR/TiVo views count?
Brown: C3 has become the standard in the industry and provides a more accurate reflection of the programs that are heavily DVR'd. In that sense, DVR audience has become very important to programmers as contributing substantial viewing.

In Depth: What about on-line viewing from sites such as Hulu, or network sites like CBS.com or ABC.com?
Brown: Shows on CBS.com or ABC.com that are the exact same as the live broadcast version -- with the same commercials -- will be counted with the Extended Screen in C3.

In Depth: What about programs on those sites that air with fewer commercials than were shown during the network broadcast?
Brown: To be counted in our current measurement as part of a program's viewership, they need to have the same exact commercials.

In Depth: Over the years, there's been a growing concern among viewers that networks are making decisions based on a very small portion of the viewing audience. It's not uncommon to hear people complain, "I have never met a Nielsen family in my life... who are these people?" What would you say to those people, and are there plans to expand the basic viewing pool that is used to generate ratings?
Brown: Nielsen understands that it's essential to capture what people are watching, whatever and however they watch it. By selecting a high-quality sample of the population for our NPM, we can reliably project what is being viewed. For example, your doctor does not need all of your blood -- but only a small sample -- to detect health concerns. Sampling is similar in that Nielsen homes are carefully chosen to represent many other homes, all of which means that your odds of knowing a Nielsen home are small, but that does not diminish the quality or accuracy of our estimates. The NPM sample is of such size as to assure statistical accuracy.

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