After roughly three years of “code readers” telling a story of steadily declining TV ratings in this market, Nielsen is set to launch a new system for measuring viewers across various platforms, something that has become increasingly complex as technology has advanced.
In 2015, the Mobile market moved to code readers to determine television ratings, doing away with the old fashioned “diaries” that were were filled out by hand by people in the area who agreed to be surveyed. The old system unfairly benefited older “legacy stations,” it was argued, and didn’t track true viewing patterns, such as flipping channels while watching a show.
When code readers arrived, as predicted the ratings gaps between WKRG, WALA and WPMI tightened significantly, but the overall ratings numbers also plummeted, indicating far fewer viewers than the diaries had indicated. For example, in the 2015 May sweeps done under the old diary system, WKRG led the way at 5 p.m. with an 8.8 rating, followed by WEAR at 7.8, WALA at 5.23 and WPMI at 4.1.
A snapshot of the 5 p.m. news during the week Tropical Storm Gordon was rolling through the area — storms typically produce high viewership — shows a much different story. WALA led the market with a 2.4 rating, followed by WKRG and WEAR, each with a rating of 2.3, and WPMI with 1.4. Those ratings would indicate a loss of far more than half the audience.
But WPMI and WEAR Market Manager Bobby Totsch says it’s all a little more complicated than that. He said bluntly the code reader system is killing TV. One reason, he said, is they are measuring a very small number of homes — just 425 in the Mobile/Pensacola market. This means changes in activities by a small number of people can drastically skew numbers.
“If two families go on vacation, there go the ratings. If a guy leaves his TV on all day while he’s gone, ‘Bonanza’ tops the charts,” he joked.
Nielsen Local Media Impact is due to launch in October and Totsch says at the very least it will offer a much larger sample size than the current system.
“I believe the system will tie into 25,000 homes here,” he said.
Other issues Nielsen cites in getting a true picture of television ratings are things like DVR usage and subscription or streaming services. Whether Local Media Impact solves that problem is yet to be determined. The only thing that is clear is that print isn’t the only medium struggling with its place in the digital world.
“After years of trying the next best thing and rolling out new innovations, and still not gaining industry accreditation or even credibility in most people’s minds, this is now the next best thing,” he said.
Further complicating matters is a rumbling that Nielsen could sell out to its competitor comScore, which would certainly change up the world of ratings measurement.