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New Audience Measurement for TV Raises a Simple Question



When I heard Nielsen Media Research was announcing a new initiative which would revamp its TV ratings research system, I had a simple question:

Has its ratings system even been totally believable?

It's an open secret among many in the TV industry, epsecially at the local level, that a high degree of skepticism exists about Nielsen's head-counting procedures, for many reasons. The biggest hole in their old system was that it didn't measure out-of-home viewing -- which meant TVs at work, health clubs, bars, college dormitories and hotels had no place in national TV ratings (which, of course, thrilled TV outlets like CNBC and ESPN to no end).

Such a weakness was bad enough when most cable systems had 50-something channels. But now, you have people -- like yours truly -- who do about half their TV viewing through digital video recording devices. You have young people who do a tremendous amount of TV viewing through the Internet. And with content moving onto cellphones and BlackBerries and iPods, the need to monitor outside the traditional living room box is greater than ever.

Nielsen promises its new "Anytime/Anywhere" measrement system will handle out-of-home viewing and integrate Internet TV viewing with its traditional ratings reports. The compay has already announced partnership with cable TV companies such as comcast to monitor video-on-demand viewing and pay-per-view programs.

I hope Nielsen's new system brings a better sense of who is watching what when. I also hope it leads to expansion at Nielsen's Oldsmar facility as company officials claim. But the company is going to have to work hard to convince TV executives who always viewed their data with a skeptical eye.

TV Fine Increase Deepens Indecency Debate

Preisdent Bush's signature on a bill increasing fines for indecent broadcast content tenfold means different things to different people.

Anti-indecency advocates say the $325,000 fines are necessary to make giant media corporations such as Clear Channel and Viacom care when a infraction is lodged. Free speech advocates say the fine just encourages broadcasters to censor themselves at a time when the Internet is redefining the concepts of what "broadcasting" really is.

And there's the fact that its a major bill aimed at the sensiblities of conservative voters right before the midterm elections.

Regular readers of this space know I have often criticized broadcasters for not being more sensitive to the legitimate concerns of viewers upset by the growing coarseness of broadcasts. They have mostly themselves to blame for a environment where conservative politicians -- desperate for achievements at a time of falling poll numbers and growing voter discontent -- are willing to beat the indecency drum.

That said, I expect broadcasters now have even more incentive to challenge the legal right of federal officials to police their content through the current system of complaints and fines. So the upshot of all this may be a final Supreme Court showdown on whether the FCC has a right to say anything when Janet Jackson's top comes off.

Imagine the kind of Super Bowl halftime we'll have if the courts say they should shut up.


I'll be appearing on Rob Lorei's Florida This Week on WEDU-Ch. 3, discussing the FCAT, Florida governor candidate Jim Davis, Katherine Harris and many other issues I'm not nearly qualified enough to opine on. Check it at 8:30 p.m. tonight opr 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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