The way audiences consume content has changed drastically in recent years, but the way network television ratings are calculated hasn't. That is about to change, however, with new ratings rules being implemented in the fall of 2020.
After spending several years of testing technology and measurement systems, TV's national Nielsen ratings -- those measurements of audience used to set rates with advertisers for shows like The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital, and Days of our Lives -- says it's ready to start including numbers from people viewing programs "out of home" (places like restaurants, hotel rooms, and at other people's houses).
"Brands, agencies and TV networks have always been aware that TV viewing happens away from the home -- at places like airports, the office, bars and watch parties -- and today there is a broader understanding of the amount of out of home viewing that exists," says Scott N. Brown, head of product, TV & Audio, at Nielsen. "In fact, some networks in the sports genre see approximately 11% of their total audience on average comprised of out of home viewing. Similarly, on average, 7% of news audiences are coming from out of home sources, all of which underscores the importance of capturing these audiences in the ratings."
The 2020 change comes after years of debate over whether TV ratings truly reflect the audiences who have tuned in to watch the programs they measure. TV networks have consistently maintained that a large portion of their viewership isn't being counted because the national ratings don't include viewers who are watching shows on mobile devices in places other than their own living rooms. Nielsen's move, which was first reported by Variety, could reverse the ratings erosion that has happened season after season as TV viewers have moved on to new viewing habits and moved over to services like Netflix and Hulu.
CBS, for example, believes that the new Nielsen rules will lead to the network seeing increased numbers for its shows -- especially sports and news programs. Radha Subramanyam, chief research and analytics officer for CBS Corp, says the planned 2021 broadcast of Super Bowl LV is poised to see a 10% to 12% lift in total viewers -- "if not more."
It's too early to tell how the Nielsen changes will affect soap opera ratings, but the television industry as a whole has been championing ratings calculation changes for some time out of fairness and to get a more realistic portrayal of viewer habits.
Says Subramanyam of the 2020 change: "It's real viewing. It's measured, it's verified, and it is what the whole industry is going to start transacting on in the fall of 2020."
What do you think about Nielsen making changes to the way TV ratings are calculated? Do you watch your favorite soap operas outside of your home, on mobile devices, and/or on the go? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.