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Ephron on  Media

By Erwin Ephron

Research makes for bad conversation. It’s too fussy for casual talk and can leave the wrong impression. Have you been following the countless discussions on TV Commercial Ratings?

Since the peoplemeter was introduced in 1987, TV ratings have been based on viewing during the average minute of a program. But advertisers also want to know how many people watch their messages. This has led Nielsen to propose commercial minute ratings and that has led to lots of industry discussion. What is it all about?

The New York Times thinks Nielsen is going to report how many people see commercials (“A Question of Eyeballs”, October 18, 2006), but that’s wrong. Nielsen can’t tell us how many people see commercials. They can only track whether people change channels or turn the set off or leave the room.

If Nielsen can’t measure how many people see commercials, what can they measure?

Nielsen records the tuning behavior of panel members who register themselves as “watching TV” by signing-in to the set meter. This usually happens when they first enter the room or turn the set on. After that they are periodically, but not frequently asked to confirm they are viewing. But that query is not timed to coincide with commercials so the viewing state of the Nielsen sample when commercials appear is uncertain. The question “did you see that commercial?” never comes up in any form.

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March 2021



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