Channel Guide: Out With the Old Ratings, In With the New


We all hate them. They’re the things that keep programs like American Idol on the air but shut out shows like Lone Star. It’s no secret that the system is out-dated. When the Nielsen Ratings were first established, the only way to watch television was through, well, a television. There was no on-demand cable, no internet, no laptops… you get the point.

Because of the archaic nature of the current system, many eye-balls are not counted, and thus, fan favorite shows get cancelled (I’m still shedding a tear for CHASE). It’s not that the networks have a vendetta against fan-favorite programming, they just need it to be profitable. And if the data says “this works, but this doesn’t” that’s what they’ll follow.

In other words: Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.

But thanks to CBS, it looks like that game might be changing sooner, rather than later.

First a quick lesson:

The current system is broken down into groups separated by age and gender. The two most coveted of these groups are males 18-49 and females 18-49. The reason? Those are the groups that spend money and thus will be most receptive to advertising. Let’s be honest, when was the last time you saw a 70 year old man at the Apple store looking to buy the latest iPhone?

Often times a show will have monster overall ratings, but only a fraction of that lies within the 18-49 demographic, and thus the show will be useless when it comes to actually turning a profit. But the catch is that many 18-49 year olds today are watching television, but not through a trackable item like television (as we stated earlier). And that’s where the new system comes into play.

The new ratings system developed by CBS’s head of research David Poltrack is separated into six “demand profit pool personas.”

The following is the data described by Deadline:

  • TV Companions (people who use TV for companionship and always have it on in the background – mainly stay-at-home women)
  • Sports Enthusiasts (no definition necessary)
  • Streamers (younger viewers who watch content across multiple screens)
  • TV Moderators (those who try not to watch too much TV)
  • Media Trendsetters (users of both TV and new technology who tend to talk, not tweet, about TV shows to their friends)
  • Program Passionates, who are dedicated to their own appointment-television favorites.

Poltrack has stated that the two most important groups in the new set up are the Program Passionates and the Media Trendsetters and those the groups that CBS will be attempting to target in the future.

What should be taken away from this data is that the male and female demographics are bring viewed equally. But when trying to sell a product, is that really the right way to go?

What happens when you stop separating the groups into genders is that you limit the types of products that can be advertised, and thus limit the advertising in general. Suddenly your left with nothing but ads for new tech, movie spots and the latest Honda model.

This new system is great because it includes the eyeballs being left out currently by way of Hulu, DVR and Netflix, but what the old system has right is classifying by the very basic information of age and gender. Now, if all six of these groups were separated into sub groups of that information, then we’d really be onto something.

For example, imagine if a show was doing great with Program Passionates but all those passionates were made up of 65 year old men that don’t care about the latest Android Tablet. But then when all seems lost, the show does well in the Media Trendsetters group and that data comes in to be made up of college kids under 22 who could use a new tablet. Suddenly, you have a profitable show.

In advertising, it’s all about targeting. This new system definitely brings us closer to where we need to be with measuring television audiences, but we still have a ways to go.

Want to read more Channel Guide? Of course you do.

To listen to the latest episode of Merrill’s TV Podcast, The Idiot Boxers with Kevin Carr, head over to Fat Guys at the Movies.

From a young age, TV guru Merrill Barr has been obsessed with the small screen. And one day he decided to put that obsession to good use.

Read More from Merrill Barr
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