Television ratings are most frequently based on what are called Nielsen Ratings, as this is the major corporate source for accumulating data on television program viewing. The Company uses three types of data collection processes, audiometers, people meters and diaries all of which require installation and/or teaching on the matter and all which have varied reliability for different demographic data. For instance the audiometer ratings rates only the program viewing, not by demographics of the family’s individual viewers, the people meter rates the demographics but is not entirely reliable (given the difficulty of use) and the diary has serious challenges in compliance. Also there are overall challenges to the system as the company disproportionately chooses households with only one television, probably for ease of installation and the number of actual compliance are low, in that only 50% of those asked to do so participate. Yet, ultimately, “The ratings are crucial in deciding whether to continue a show into the next TV season, or to bargain over the price for thirty seconds of advertizing time. The ratings constitute the only common standard that allows all parties to negotiate the value of particular programs.” (Fishman & Cavender, 1998, p. 60)

Changes in television ratings will likely come rather rapidly as digital video recording (DVR TiVo) devices change the manner in which individual view television. Now an individual can easily record a program and watch it at any time, not necessarily live and for those who have DVRs not likely live as even excitement will not usually eclipse the desire of the viewer to wait a half an hour or longer from the beginning of a recording before beginning to view so ads can be forwarded through without viewing. This change will also likely be enduring as on demand programming on the computer is also widely available without recording and this also changes advertizing patterns. Case in point the television writers strike of 2007-2008 where writers balked at the payment scale confusion regarding supposed lost advertizing revenue caused by these new viewing options. (Klowden, Chatterjee, & DeVol, 2008) DVR technology if recorded does offer Nielsen a serious competitive challenge as well as DVR smart cards could potentially serve as substantial longitudinal ratings devices, but they would not be in real time unless the data was downloaded by the provider on a daily basis.

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One great example of how ratings are affective is the 1980’s example of the Dallas season two cliffhanger. The supposed “Who Shot JR?” episode actually titled “A House Divided” that proved tot the world that ratings are essential and that real viewership can determine financial as well as social dominance. (Reilly, 1980) The program had the highest per episode viewer ratings of any before it and the plot has been called “the shot cheered round the world.” (Reilly, 1980) Another great example is the M.A.S.H. season finale, as the program held a huge record for most viewers of any finale in television history and the viewership record has served as an enduring benchmark in television until the Super Bowl XLIV, in 2010, when the battered city of New Orleans LA sent the Saints to the super bowl and the whole nation was rooting for triumph for the city, and the team. Many contend that the viewership rating was skewed in large part due to the expansion of the Nielsen system as well as the vast number of televisions in homes today, as compared to the M.A.S.H. finale in 1983. According to the record the M.A.S.H. finale had 105.97 estimated viewers and the super bowl was 106 million, the staggering number is substantial in large part because the M.A.S.H. rating has proven an enduring marker for viewership standards. (NFL Wire Reports, 2010) M.A.S.H’s finale success was probably largely due to the fact that the program had an enduring and endearing quality that had both constant and occasional viewer following and the characters within the work held both these characteristics to an extreme. With this appeal, the proof can be seen when the record gets broken, as the Super bowl example above gives proof that people must have an emotional attachment to seeing plots and people through the long-term. The U.S. had an enduring desire to see New Orleans as a place and the Saints as a team triumph over adversity following Katrina, and viewers of M.A.S.H, a long running sitcom, still in syndication left viewers hoping for emotional and physical resolution for endearing characters. (NFL Wire Reports, 2010)


Fishman, M., & Cavender, G. (1998). Mark Fishman, Gray Cavender. New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Klowden, K., Chatterjee, A., & DeVol, R. (2008, June). The Economic Impact of Digital Distribution. Retrieved August 1, 20010 from

NFL Wire Reports. (2010, February 8). Super Bowl XLIV beats ‘M-A-S-H’ finale for U.S. viewership record., Retrieved August 1, 20010 from

Reilly, S. (1980). Who Shot JR? People, 14 (2), Retrieved August 1, 20010 from,,20076970,00.html.