Mediaweek had an interesting piece of statistics yesterday which reports on a change made by Nielsen in terms of how they track ratings. While last year saw the introduction of TiVo viewings into the ratings system, starting in January Nielsen started measuring something called “out-of-home viewings” by college students.
Yesterday, the results for the first three months of the year were revealed in terms of their effect on the 19-24 age group. And, unsurprisingly, the change is fairly substantial in many cases.
For ABC, the big winner was Grey’s Anatomy, which since January has seen enough growth in the 18-24 ratings group that its entire 18-49 rating has gone up a full point. This makes sense, really; it’s the kind of show that large segments of college populations will gather around the TV to watch on a regular basis, and it appeals to pretty much every gender/social group within campuses.
However, surprising to me at least, Lost was not included in the list of shows with at least 17% growth in the 18-24 age range. Considering the amount of support which I see for Lost at the university level, I find this very hard to believe, and it seems like Nielsen families have really lame college students. This is further evidenced by the ratings increase for FOX’s ‘Til Death, which was actually fairly substantial.
Other shows gaining ground include Ugly Betty, Men in Trees (ABC), America’s Next Top Model (The CW), and House (FOX). However, these are all very abstract figures, and to an observer it may seem as if they really don’t matter in the least. And, while you’re right on many counts, I think that this is actually somewhat important.
Considering that the illegal downloading of TV shows is so prevalent on campuses especially, I think that this figure goes to prove the level to which it has not destroyed the viewing habits of college students. People don’t download TV shows to avoid watching them live, but rather because they don’t have the time or the ability to watch them otherwise. A show like House or Grey’s Anatomy, both hugely downloaded shows, still show very substantial movement among college students because they’re event programming. Students will gather in a lounge, trying to eke out the best spot on the couch for that night’s episode. The same goes for something like America’s Next Top Model, or Lost, or something like American Idol.
College students still watch TV legally, too, and I think that the industry needs to realize this. Even as torrenting becomes widespread, the simple idea of gathering around the TV is not dying. Even a show that is often considered a college campus phenomenon, like the Office, showed considerable ratings growth due to this new measurement. If anything, torrents allow for people to catch up and get hooked on television so that future ratings growth is possible.
Nielsen has come to the conclusion that we sort of matter; I’m hoping that this message gets through the TV industry.