Ratings, ratings, ratings.

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

What’s a television show if it has no ratings? A canceled television show, I tell you — that’s what it is. Now, what’s a television show that has no ratings, yet is reportedly watched by a ton of people? An Internet sensation, I tell you — that’s what it is.

Behold a major step in the sea change that is sweeping the world of television consumption: Nielsen, the gold standard for all things ratings, is about to include numbers from televisions that use an Internet connection as its source of cable. From The New York Times‘ resident Guy Who Reports On Such Things, Brian Stelter …

“On Thursday … Nielsen said that it would start considering Americans who have spurned cable, but who have a television set hooked up to the Internet, as ‘television households,’ potentially adding to the sample of homes that are rated by the company, the standard for television ratings,” he wrote last week. “In front of skeptical network officials, the company pledged to measure TV viewership on iPads and other mobile devices in the future.”

Ah-ha! And to think it took The Associated Press only four days to concoct a story of its own. From David Bauder, who, himself pointed out a few interesting tidbits of knowledge Monday …

“During the last week of January, for example, ABC’s ‘Modern Family’ ranked No. 12 for the week with 10.8 million viewers if you count just the people who watched on Wednesday, Jan. 23,” he explained. “But within seven days, 15.9 million people had seen the episode, enough to make it the third most popular show of the week behind two ‘American Idol’ episodes. Fox’s ‘The Following’ finished a modest 15th place initially, but its audience jumped by 45 percent over the next week, enough to lift the show to fourth place.”

Quick: Can you come up with six degrees between Kevin Bacon and “Modern Family?” How about Kevin Bacon and Jordin Sparks? How about Jordin Sparks and Brian Stelter? How about … OK. Nevermind.

Anyway, as Stelter pointed out, the precise definition of this new approach will include “those households who are receiving broadband Internet and putting it onto a television set.” The catch? Only about .6 percent of households in this country actually meet that description. But even with that said … hey, it’s a start.

All of this leads us to a question I’ve been meaning to ask for a little while now, especially with the recent release of Netflix’s “House of Cards” — with the news that Nielsen is going to include all of this stuff in its weekly report … how are the Very Important People of the business (and by the business, I mean the industry) going to approach awards shows? Will the Emmys introduce an Internet-only category? Will the Emmys simply ignore all original online content? And if so, how long will it be until the trophy shows are forced into acknowledging these projects as legitimate TV creations? More importantly, is this Nielsen news going to nudge the awards people that much closer to the notion of embracing Internet series?

Some of those questions may be answered whenever Netflix decides to let the world in on the secret that is The Number Of People Who Have Watched “House of Cards.” For now, Big Red is keeping that nugget of information close to its vest. Maybe once we find out how many (or how few) people have bought or are buying into the whole Kevin Spacey-starring political drama thing, we can begin to draw logical conclusions about exactly how many people are opting for this approach to television consumption.

“Every Tuesday, the Nielsen company publishes a popularity ranking of broadcast television programs that has served as the industry’s report card dating back to when most people had only three networks to choose from,” Bauder wrote. “With DVRs, video on demand, game consoles and streaming services, tablets and smartphones, the way people watch television is changing and the industry is struggling to keep on top of it all. Even the idea of ‘watching television’ is in flux. Are you ‘watching TV’ when you stream an episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ on a tablet?

“Nielsen’s Tuesday rankings — and the achievement of getting into the week’s Top Ten — used to mean the world,” he continued before adding, “now it’s a small part of television’s picture.”

Indeed. When the book is eventually written on the TV revolution that most of us don’t even realize is currently taking place under our very noses, it’s hard to think that this tiny announcement from Nielsen won’t be a fairly substantial footnote to a story that will without question be bigger than the sum of its parts.

For those of you wondering when all of this stuff will begin taking effect, Nielsen is looking at September for a start date. As of Monday afternoon, however, there was no word on if “Six Degrees Of The Following” was a thing yet.


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