Reading ratings’ role

By CiaraShook

Justin Kulovsek of the Nielsen Company visited Columbia to discuss the importance of Nielsen ratings in the media, urging students to consider the important role ratings play in their careers.

Kulovsek, a 2004 alumnus of Columbia, was on campus Dec. 10 to present “What TV Ratings Really Mean” to students and the public in which he discussed how research for the Nielsen Company is done and how it affects what is shown on television.

While there is no way for Nielsen to gauge how much a television program was enjoyed by those who viewed it, the company can draw numbers of how many people watched. Ratings numbers refer to the percent of television viewers tuned to a particular program at one time.

Kulovsek explained the difference between national ratings and local ratings, and how a basketball game in Chicago may have earned a rating of 15 on the national scale when it received a rating of 22.7 in that area simply because of popularity.

“The local ratings, the networks are not concerned with,” Kulovsek said. “The local stations pay for that content from the network. The national ratings are more used for script development and national ad buys.”

The method of ad placement in a television program is dependent on Nielsen ratings as well. Depending on how popular a program is and what time it airs, the ratings help determine how much a company may need to pay broadcasters to air their commercial.

Michelle Passarelli, assistant director of Alumni Operations, said it is important for students to be aware of the Nielsen ratings and how they may affect the media market, especially because many plan to pursue a career in television, advertising or media.

“The world revolves around ratings,” Passarelli said. “Everyone should know how they’re factored, figured and what they mean because without ratings there are no jobs, then there’s no revenue.”

Kulovsek said Nielsen ratings are also used to understand audience characteristics, which is what demographic is watching the program and why.

The company researches which program combinations work in order to maximize viewership.  Take ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” as an example.

“When ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ first came on the air, it was on Sunday nights,” Kulovsek said. “They moved it to Thursdays. That was a very strategic move—they had all this really good programming on Sunday nights, so they started spreading it out. ‘Grey’s’ went to Thursdays, and would compete with ‘E.R.’ It was taking away from NBC at that time.”

Kulovsek said Nielsen families, households chosen to participate in the research, are chosen at random so as not to skew ratings by accommodating those who ask to participate.

Household viewing is measured by TV diaries, which date back to the ’50s, as well as electronic devices hooked up to TVs that measure what is being viewed.

Though the household measurement has been a tried-and-true method for ratings, Nielsen presented A2M2 in 2006, which is an “Anywhere, Anytime” media measurement.

Kulovsek said Nielsen is beginning to “co-fuse” data together with media and consumer goods.

“It’s not that you watched the video at home, it’s that you watched the video somewhere,” Kulovsek said. “Whether it’s in a bar, online, home, phone, iPod, whatever it might be, we are following content all over the place.”

Kevin McElligott, senior marketing communications major, said Kulovsek’s presentation explored a lot of areas that he hadn’t heard before.

“As [students] go into the industry, it’s all they’re going to be dealing with,” McElligott said. “As the business transitions to a more industrial complex as it were, I think we’ll have to deal with that on a daily basis.”