37

Plenty of people are posting the claim that if you don't watch the inauguration, or better still tune it to a different channel, this will affect ratings for the event.

Will this actually affect the ratings?

Claims:

A popular message has been making the rounds on Facebook, for example, that declares, "If you have cable or satellite TV, they keep track of who is watching what. Instead of turning your TV off that day, turn all your TVs on OTHER CHANNELS."1

Across the nation, Clinton supporters are uniting nationwide on Friday to produce the lowest-rated inauguration event in the history of televised presidency, turning their backs on the broadcast of day one of the Trump presidency.2

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    Here in the UK I have heard the claim several times that large-scale television events are measured by asking the power companies for anonymous usage data. During advert breaks and at the end, people put the kettle on, which in aggregate produces measurable usage spikes that helps estimate viewership. So if lots of people don't use their kettles at the end of an inauguration, ratings may go down! – halfer Jan 23 '17 at 23:10
60

No, unless you're part of one of the relatively small number of pre-selected households whose viewing habits are measured (the "Nielsen families")

There's not a lot of clarity about how many households are involved.

In January of 2016, they increased to 40,000 households, according to this: http://www.broadcastingcable.com/news/currency/7-things-you-need-know-about-nielsen-s-new-tool/146053

A quick blurb about the Neilsen system: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/solutions/measurement/television.html

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    Also, their methodology does not include accounting for specific boycotts. They count the channels you watch and the specific time frames you typically watch, then the ratings are calculated for each show. – fredsbend Jan 20 '17 at 17:31
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    Though I am sure it is not the only metric, but that is seems amazingly small sample size for the number of TV viewing households in the US. – RomaH Jan 20 '17 at 18:39
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    @RomaH Assuming the sample is representative and not biased, then at a 95% confidence, that's a 1.39% error margin (using estimated US population for 2016 from Wikipedia) (using this) – Izkata Jan 20 '17 at 19:15
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    This covers Nielson, but doesn't touch a (hypothetical) digital rating from service provides as in the edit with a claim. – user36688 Jan 20 '17 at 20:10
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    @RomaH: It is an incredibly small sample size; it's also poorly distributed which is one of the reasons that popular, well-produced, genre-niche TV shows keep getting cancelled :( Nielsen is widely criticised as being a poor system for reflecting who's watching what. Sadly, as the viral quote in this question shows, education is also shockingly poor on the matter; most people seem to think the networks magically know what you're watching, whether you're in the Nielsen sample or not. And, ultimately, as long as the advertisers accept it, the networks will accept it, and that's that. – Lightness Races with Monica Jan 21 '17 at 18:20
15

EDIT:

From the most up to date source I could find:

"Families are asked to track their viewing habits for a certain period of time. A small collection of these families makes up a sample size that Nielsen uses to estimate the size of a national audience or an audience in a specific region."

https://www.thebalance.com/how-to-understand-nielsen-tv-ratings-2315476

And most recently, Nielsen has made a deal with Dish Network and AT&T to gather ratings using set-top boxes, which promises to be the most accurate measurement yet

https://www.engadget.com/2017/01/18/att-nielsen-tv-ratings-deal/

13

Yes (but no)

There are two parts to the Nielsen ratings, the total number of viewers (Points) and the Share.

A Ratings Point is 1% of the total number of households.

The Share is the percentage of viewers during a given time that viewed a certain show.

The Share of any show would be affected if more people tuned to another show at the same time but the Ratings Points would not be. So the theory would affect the ratings but since more weight is given to the Points that the Share, it wouldn't have that much impact.

Why-do-TV-execs-consider-ratings-more-important-than-share

From Wikipedia:

A single national ratings point represents 1% of the total number, or 1,156,000 households for the 2013–14 season. Nielsen re-estimates the number of television-equipped households each August for the upcoming television season. Share is the percentage of television sets in use that are tuned to the program

I used to be a Nielsen viewer. I had a box that gave them data constantly over the internet. It would record the channels I watched and the times.

Apparently, Nielsen has an agreement to use Dish Network for ratings and has just come to an agreement with DirecTV.

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    Why did you stop being a Nielsen Viewer? I couldn't really find any actual information on how that company actually does things – user45891 Jan 21 '17 at 12:07
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    @user45891 - I didn't ask to stop, they said they change viewers regularly when they disconnected me. I was one for three years. – Hannover Fist Jan 23 '17 at 20:49
  • This answer would be better if it pointed out that the answer is definitively "No" if you're not a Nielsen viewer. – Kip Jan 25 '17 at 19:51

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