Decline of the Nielsen Family and What it Means for Marketing

Decline of the Nielsen Family and What it Means for Marketing

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For decades the main driving force behind America’s television programs haven’t been not just executives or creative minds but a select group of around 25000 families that have dictated what we get to see on TV by sheer virtue of being selected over everyone else to represent a sample size of America. These are the so-called Nielsen families, the barometer for a series’ success since the 1970’s. The Nielsen rating is derived from these households and over the years this crucial measurement has lead to the downfall of popular series like Firefly or Veronica Mars.


Nielsen Family Marketing


Recently, however the legitimacy of the Nielsen rating as a measurement for advertisers’ impact has been waning as the nation’s television habits have been changing. Nowadays we have Netflix, Hulu and a lot of other video on demand services and the Nielsen rating just isn’t representative for television anymore, especially in the case of a lot of the more popular shows. Shows like Game of Thrones or Community struggle to reach a 3.0 score yet advertising revenues from that class of shows is increasing exponentially. Advertisers, it seems are paying more based on other criteria than just Nielsen rating.

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There is a simple reason for that: social media. It is interesting but the very same market segment that is most active on social media is the one that shows like Mad Men, Community or girls are most popular with: young to middle age highly educated viewers. Coincidentally the same group most sought after by almost all companies due to their spending power.

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Marketing, particular on-line marketing is no longer full page ads in glossy magazines, a TV spot and some seo link building. Marketing strategies at all the best companies are now multi-layered, net-centric and organic minded. Companies try to foster traffic and social hype rather than just advertising in sidebars. And it seems that the same idea of new marketing is getting more and more traction in television. A company is willing to pay more to target less because it is no longer in a quantitative but a qualitative mindset. The targeted consumer is different from the Nielsen ‘average’ and advertisers are increasingly willing to risk on a show with a younger, dynamic fan base than on Law and Order even if the latter gets better ratings overall.


There is talk of Twitter slowly becoming a new alternative to the Nielsen rating. The number of (active) twitter followers is, of course no new metric for marketers but it is increasingly judged the most relevant. While Facebook users are hard to ‘count’ and analyse, the twitter public is exactly the opposite, an active twitter account is a sure thing, which is why big brands are willing to pay big bucks for twitter analytics.


So far, the Nielsen scale has still kept its preeminent position in ratings but as the public becomes more volatile and fragmented, and as the Internet replaces the television set as media consumption platform so too are new standards need to change.


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