Shows Like ‘The O.C.’ and ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ May Get Ratings Bump

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NEW YORK ( -- Agencies have long taken it on faith that certain programming was popular on college campuses, like sports, but now Nielsen Media Research will give them data to prove that hunch. The ratings tracking firm will start to include out-of-home viewing at college dorms in the national TV ratings sample starting 2007.
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Pilot study
Nielsen’s pilot study of college viewing indicates that certain shows would see a bump in their audience levels. For November 2005 -- Nielsen’s latest data -- ratings for football would have risen by a full ratings point among college-aged (18-to-24) men, while among college-aged women ABC would have received a 0.6 rating bump for “Grey’s Anatomy,” while Fox’s “The O.C.” would have a ratings increase of 0.4. Nielsen estimates overall adult 18-to-24 viewing levels could increase between 3% and 12% and could result in a ratings increase of 0.2 to 1.0 for individual programs.

“These guys are killing themselves over a tenth of a ratings point,” said Patricia McDonough, senior VP-planning, policy and analysis at Nielsen, who helped orchestrate a two-year pilot study about college-aged male and female viewing patterns. “To me, the most surprising fact was that [the students] watch as much TV as any other 18- to 24-year-old.” During the 2004-05 school year, young adults watched 24.3 hours of TV per week. That group was from families who are already part of the Nielsen TV sample.

While the inclusion of new out-of-home ratings will be welcomed by media agencies and advertisers looking to better target elusive young adults, it adds yet another level of complexity (not to mention cost) to negotiations that once centered on a single set of numbers.

Flood of research
Agencies admit they are in danger of drowning under a flood of research. Buyers are grappling with the value of viewers watching shows via digital video recorders such as TiVo. Nielsen began providing data about DVR playback in December, as networks argued these viewers have been undercounted until now. Agencies say viewers are more likely to skip commercials using DVRs and therefore they shouldn’t have to pay for additional rating points.

“College viewing, coupled with DVR ratings, and the arrival of the CW will be a whole new set of headaches for us,” said one senior agency research chief. The CW, a new broadcast network formed from the merger of UPN and the WB, will target young adults and will is headed to market this upfront ad-selling season.

In a statement released by Nielsen yesterday, Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, said, “Extended home is an important step toward a more complete accounting of exposure.”

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