So earlier this month, the Nielsen Company announced that they found a glitch in their measuring system that had resulted in inaccurate reporting of ratings numbers (going all the way back to March 2014) and of course the many haters of that company (I consider myself more of an anti-fan) screamed foul and demanded a complete reassessment of the numbers. Well up to this point I haven’t seen any sort of comprehensive listing of the updated ratings numbers, but what I have seen as far as the impact has been pretty minor. Apparently this became an issue when the Fall premieres were showing unusually high ratings (especially for the ABC shows) and several people in the television industry raised their hands and called for a recount. What I have seen of those adjusted numbers does not suggest that the glitch skewed things too much. For example, Nielsen originally reported a final overnight rating in the 18-49 demo for the Once Upon A Time season premiere at 3.7 (the highest numbers it’s seen in years) whereas the corrected number was 3.5. That’s only two ticks off and still higher than that show has enjoyed since its second season. The adjustment for the Agents of SHIELD season premiere was from 2.1 (not good) to 2.0 (still not good). I have not seen an adjusted number for the Forever or Resurrection premieres, but it really doesn’t matter that much since both have fallen to levels that have them close to cancellation at this point with the (allegedly) glitch-free numbers. I have seen some adjusted numbers for a few other shows, but all are by one or two ticks. I noticed where Revolution fans were claiming that their show was unfairly cancelled because of the faulty ratings numbers, but even if we were to improve that shows ratings average from last year (a 1.4 score) by one or two ticks, that would not have bumped it up to renewable levels. And Revolution aired on NBC which, from what I understand, was not impacted as much by the glitch.
So is there a silver lining to this? Something for those of us to cling to who consider the Nielsens outdated and unreliable for measuring the true audience of a show?
Take it from somebody who has gotten numbers wrong on important reports before (yours truly), this will definitely count against the Nielsen Company and impact the confidence level that the television industry has in them. It is actually generally acknowledged that the Nielsens are not ideal for measuring the viewing audience, but they entrenched themselves long ago and any major industry is slow to change. The networks have already been demanding better methods for measuring and Nielsen has been trying to adjust (perhaps that’s what lead to the glitch), but maybe the nets will start looking for other options to measure how many people tune in to their shows. Mind you that since this was only a minor error, which is especially small in the grand scheme of things, it will not lead to a wholesale abandonment of the Nielsens. But there was already some momentum for change and perhaps this will get things moving quicker in that direction.
But in the meantime, expect business as usual to continue and the networks will still devour the overnights as soon as they are available from the Nielsen Company and I will continue to report them here. And more shows will get cancelled based on those numbers (Resurrection, Forever, and perhaps The 100 and Haven are currently on the shortlist). But maybe in a few more year’s time we will have a much more reliable system for measuring viewership, and the Nielsens will no longer dictate the fates of our favorite shows. Of course plenty of shows will still get cancelled and we will still complain . . .