Numbers Sometimes Lie “Fewer than a million television viewers watched Miss USA [on Reelz] which was down dramatically from the 5.6 million people who watched Miss USA on NBC last year.

I’ve never been a fan of the ratings services.  Of course, that comes from working at radio stations where the margin of error was typically as large as the biggest shares in the market, meaning that the numbers were just shy of random.

But it’s not just a problem with the numbers.  It’s a problem with just what they measure.

Take the quote above, from the always-grouchy (in a good way) Scott Jones at FTVLive.  He makes it sound like it’s a bad thing that Miss USA viewership dropped… but he may be looking at the numbers the wrong way.

In 2014, how many of those TV sets were in front of people actively watching the show, and how many happened to be tuned to an NBC station as background noise?  We have no way of knowing.

In 2015, on an obscure cable channel that nobody would have known about two weeks earlier, you can pretty safely assume that those “fewer than a million … viewers” were actively watching the show.  They had to be.  They had to take time to find the channel on their cable guide, because really, how many TVs would normally be tuned to Reelz?

Which is better?  “Fewer than a million” engaged viewers, or “5.6 million” semi-engaged viewers?

Ratings services will probably never be able to answer that question, and I will continue to distrust ratings services because of it.  The fact that every TV show I like gets cancelled due to bad ratings in its first few weeks is, of course, just a coincidence.


Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, slightly less occasional improv player/ref/tech, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), generally nice person (if you ask me).

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