What the Hell are.. The Nielsen Ratings? and Why Are They In Trouble?

August 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Features

Please tell me this isn’t some new weird Olympic event that I haven’t heard of?
Errmm.. not quite, although I’m sure the Jacques Rogge & Co would appreciate Nielsen’s ‘entrepreneurial spirit’.

I don’t follow..
Well my inquisitive friend, the Nielsen Ratings are America’s primary set of TV audience measurement systems. Basically, Nielsen tell broadcasters how many people are watching their shows and they’re being accused of corruption..

Yet more corruption! Is nothing sacred?
I’m afraid not my idealistic friend, I thought you said you’d been watching the Olympics!? Now as you can imagine channel bosses will pay damn good money to get their hands on the information, because it tells them how much they can charge advertisers for their campaigns.

So this is where the corruption comes in then?
The alleged corruption you mean?

Tomayto tomahto..
Well The Hollywood Reporter broke a story which told of how New Delhi Television Limited has filed a lawsuit against the firm, accusing them of engaging in some seriously disturbing practices with their data – accepting bribes from other channels to skew things in their favour.

What? Explain?
Basically, the Indian News Channel is accusing Nielsen of deliberately under-counting their audience through a number of methods, because they had the temerity not to bribe them. NDTL is now seeking billions of dollars from the corporation in lost earnings..

So why is this such a big deal?
Nielsen basically invented the ratings industry and have been the largest global provider since the 1950s. There have been whisperings like this around the American company before – most notably in 2004 when there were multiple reports of tampering with the electronic ‚ÄúPeople Meters‚Ä? (above) that judge viewership – but this official lawsuit could be a big problem for the firm.

How? Does this mean there’ll be no more Mad Men?!
Haha.. Now those audience figures clearly haven’t been rigged! But seriously, while it may not reference any of the US broadcasters, but it raises serious questions over how accurate the ratings they provide are and whether they ‘paid’ for them. The lawsuit also includes allegations that similar practices have been taking place in the Phillipines, Turkey and even Florida.

Fox are owned by Rupert Murdoch aren’t they? He wouldn’t get involved in something like this?
I’d prefer not to answer that question for legal reasons..

So why are such a prestigious firm getting involved in this kind of rhubarb?
Well Nielsen have been going through some tough times of late. It’s owned by a consortium of investors that have been pressuring it to cut costs and create profits wherever possible. Because the company only produces one real ‘product’, they have a lot of overhead for not much return. This ruling is highly unlikely to bring Nielsen down, but it could mean an overhaul of their system – something some people have been arguing is long overdue..

For more on this, check out the original story in The Hollywood Reporter.