General Discussion - November 19, 2013

I think we got off to a really good start yesterday with this general television discussion thread so it’s worth keeping going.

As a reminder, this is the place to air your thoughts on anything to do with television that may or may not have been discuss yet.

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About the author

Regan is one of the co-founders of Throng Media.
If they're on, I'm usually watching Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X Factor, Survivor, House of Cards, Mad Men and the NRL.
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  • Kyle Wadsworth

    A forum would be fantastic…

  • Roger

    I would like someone to explain the ratings system to me. From memory, in the country there are something like 600 or so little boxes on peoples tvs and they record what they watched, and those 600 or so households are meant to be representative of NZ. So if those 600 people don’t like a particular programme, the ratings say that no one in NZ was watching it, when actually it might not be the case.

    How many programmes are actually being watched by far more people (or far less) than the ratings suggest? It seems like such a mean way of doing it.

    Also, I think some times the expectations for ratings in NZ are ridiculous. In the US the top rated episode of season one of Homeland got 1.7 million viewers – out of a potential 313 million people. As a percentage, thats not much at all. Over here we put it on a non pay per view channel (TV3 when it was screened), and it gets 100000-200000 viewers – out of a potential of 4.4 million people. That is a lot more people viewing it per capita than the states, but it is seen as a failure in the ratings.

    If you look at American Idol in its hey day, it had 20 million viewers in the US which is seen as incredible, but 20 million out of a possible 313 million doesn’t even seem that good, in comparison to something like NZs got talent last year that had around 800 000 viewers out of a possible 4.4 million.

    Thoughts people?

    • The way Nielsen (the company who gathers this data) calculates its final numbers is highly controversial, particularly in the US. There are 1200 “peoplemeters”, the boxes which sit connected to a family’s TV set that are used to determine what the rest of the population is watching because they make up a sample size. It’s the same principle as guessing who wins elections – statistically speaking a sample size of 500 people can be scaled up to represent the country’s population.

      — From Wikipedia
      The People Meter is a ‘box’, about the size of a paperback book. The box is hooked up to each television set and is accompanied by a remote control unit. Each family member in a sample household is assigned a personal ‘viewing button’. It identifies each household member’s age and sex. If the TV is turned on and the viewer doesn’t identify themselves, the meter flashes to remind them. Additional buttons on the People Meter enable guests to participate in the sample by recording their age, sex and viewing status into the system.

      This is how Nielsen determines who is watching, because age and gender are very important. That information allows TV networks to sell commercial space to advertisers wishing to target a specific demographic. That’s why you see a massive amount of toy ads during the hours just after school, when statistically speaking all the little kids will have turned on the TV after getting home.

      To the networks, you as a viewer are a product. They sell you to their customers (their advertisers). That’s how they make money.

      Addressing the issues about pay TV and free to air TV. Your use of Homeland is a perfectly valid example, but it’s not entirely true. A TV network has a maximum number of viewers it can “reach”. Homeland’s network, Showtime, is a pay TV network. They have a certain number of subscribers. If they have only 3 million subscribers (in theory), then 1.7 million of them watching an episode is like half the country watching if they were all able to. That’s important once again because it ties into advertising, because you as a viewer are a network’s product.

      So basically, if a show is capable of reaching hundreds of millions of people, low (yet high compared to us) ratings aren’t good because it’s considered a missed opportunity. But a small network with a limited viewer base can handle those smaller audiences because they work differently in a commercial sense because they are subscriber driven.

      Then you have timeshifted viewing, and ondemand viewing. In the US they have DVR, in NZ we have MySky. They’re identical in principle. If you timeshift view, then that also gets recorded by Nielsen. So in the US (and here occasionally) an episode might double its audience from the live airing, which makes for great reading and press releases, but in reality it’s just PR from the networks to say that their shows are getting watched by heaps of people. However advertisers (the networks’ customers) don’t care, because people fast forward through ads with their DVR or MySky. Their ads don’t get seen, they don’t get sales. Simple concept really.

      If you’re wondering, I run a US TV ratings website which is how I know all this. It’s a statistics-driven industry, that’s for sure. I hope I’ve made a wee bit of sense!

      • Jeseta

        I’ve wondered if having digital tv would provide a way to get more data on more people? Could televisions or freeview boxes (theoretically) be made with ‘peoplemeter’ style technology built in, thus providing a massive increase in sample size?

        • B

          I’ve always wondered about that too, but as mentioned above it isn’t just about viewer numbers, but also which member of the household is watching what and when, each member of a Nielsen sample household is supposed to ‘sign-in’ (via a button on a remote perhaps?) everytime they sit down to watch TV, but how many of them actually stick to that rule…

          • Jeseta

            For specific age based data of course they would still have to set up specific households committed to doing that (Do Nielson families get paid for their trouble?) but if the digital tv service just happened to record what was being watched in general wouldn’t that data be useful for something? I don’t know, I just find myself sometimes watching a low-rating program and wishing I could be contributing to the ratings!

          • B

            Yea totally sucks knowing my viewing support don’t mean anything to a particular programme I enjoy.. I wonder if Freeview gave serious thought to putting in a little chip that would record said data, it may get controversial as it wouldn’t be dissimilar to google data mining for profit (though of course no where near that extend) and MAYBE the TV industry just isn’t ready for such reliable data *wink* it might just wreck havoc to the advertising industry… 😉

          • Jeseta

            Definitely. I think it could be a valuable addition to the regular nielsen data. You could even input some basic family info as a kind of ‘self reported’ ratings demo. And you could opt out if you wanted to. It wouldn’t replace the more carefully controlled nielsen peoplemeters but it might show a few flaws in the system. 600 households just doesn’t sound like enough to really get the full picture.

        • This development may appear once ultrafast broadband arrives for most of the country, and TV becomes delivered more by cable instead of satellite. Again that will present challenges regarding determining who in the household is watching. Even then though, the US has had cable for years but they don’t measure their viewers this way

          Also, you have the issue of cable subscriptions only being afforded by certain parts of society, so cutting out entire demographics because they can’t afford a cable subscription would also screw with the numbers. At the moment peoplemeters representing a sample size of households is the best way to go

          • Jeseta

            Do you know how nielsen families are found? To cover all demographics how do they go about finding the right households?

          • I’d say that’s where census data comes in

    • Trevor Ashman

      I think everyone should be included in the ratings not just 600 🙂

      • Read below – it’s 1200, and I’ve explained how the ratings system works

  • Maggie

    I’m annoyed at whoever makes Go Girls for not sticking with the tried-and-tested formula of the cast from the first few series, who I thought were fantastic.
    The remake was dire … no wonder it’s been cancelled.
    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  • Maggie

    Regan, could you please do an item on The Shopping Channel, YES Shop and TVSN? I’d like to understand the correlation between TSC and YES.
    I read elsewhere that the founder of TSC had moved across to YES, but now some of the staff have moved across too (although, the other night when I was flicking through channels the lady who was on TSC who had a hairdressing background was also on YES at the same time).
    TVSN appears to be completely standalone from the other two; but regardless, it would be interesitng to know who heads up which, etc.
    I know TSC and YES are NZ-based, and TVSN Australia-based – but if you buy from TVSN via the 0800 number or NZ website link, do your items get sent from NZ or Australia? – Is there any sort of presence in NZ?
    Incidentally, I’ve bought from three things from TSC in the past and have been extremely disappointed in two of the purchases – sloppy delivery time (two weeks); rubbish customer service; and too many automatic emails after placing the order.
    The whole notion of having two people talking for 30 minutes about one product is unnecessary … they often end up talking about things that aren’t related to the product just to fill in the time.
    I could never understand why TSC, in its early days, promoted the fact that it was “LIVE” – how was that of any benefit to the viewer?

    • Regan Cunliffe

      Perhaps someone else who knows might be able to answer this?