Like baseball and apple pie, television is among the classic all-American pastimes. Who can’t relate to the anticipation of waiting for a favorite show to premiere, and then dissecting every detail with fellow fans? While the favorite shows always change over time, now the ways to watch them have too. Traditionally, you would wait for the specific date and time to see your show, but with recording devices like TiVo and cable On-Demand and sites like Netflix and HBOGo, viewership is anything but traditional. Instead of being limited to only the show’s current season or time constraints, you can catch up with entire seasons at the push of a button, and see current episodes in their from your computer or tablet just minutes after the live broadcast. With these monumental shifts in viewing habits, it comes as a surprise that media ratings agencies have been slow to consider these new practices when compiling their ratings statistics.
But finally, Nielsen Company, the media company that monitors and compiles TV viewership to create TV ratings, has revised its sampling methodology. On February 21, 2013, Nielsen announced that it would begin counting TVs connected to the Internet as “television households,” therefore including those Americans that have dropped their cable or satellite providers and watch TV exclusively via the Internet. This change marks the conclusion of two years’ consideration of the plan, which Nielsen announced it was considering after TV ownership figures dropped in 2011. In conjunction, Nielsen will start monitoring the use of iPads, Playstations and other mobile devices in an attempt to create a more accurate picture of total viewership, and the use of streaming services like Amazon and Netflix (because these services are either ad-free or contain different ads than the original broadcast, they were not included in Nielsen data). Similarly, the move comes just a day after the Billboard 100 announced that it will include Youtube streams in compiling its song rating data.
TV executives, among others, are praising the long-awaited shift in ratings compilation, because they have long (and likely correctly) complained the new viewership avenues are not adequately reflected in ratings data. Nielsen’s position acknowledges the shift from traditional viewing mediums, and is an important first step in reflecting America’s media consumption in the digital age.