As much as we enjoy discrediting Nielsen ratings, and as unfair and outdated as we believe them to be, for now, they’re still the determining factor in whether a television show lives or dies. They’re not necessarily an accurate reflection of what is popular, but they ARE an accurate reflection for what shows advertisers will pay to run their commercials on. Therefore, they are important. As such, for television ratings geeks, it’s important to understand how the Nielsen ratings work.
Crucial to that understanding is knowing what a ratings point is. A rating point is what is most often referred to when discussing ratings, particularly in the prized 18-49 demographic. Over the last few years, for instance, a 2.0 has often been considered the baseline for what will be canceled and what will survive, although NBC has demonstrated with pick-ups of Parks and Recreation (1.9ish) and Community (1.7ish), that a 2.0 is not always necessary for renewal.
At any rate, many people are under the misconception that a 2.0 equals 2 millions viewers (and for shorthand purposes, that’s often how we report it). In fact, a ratings point changes each year, depending on the Nielsen’s sample size. For the upcoming 2012-2013 season, for example, a ratings point in the 18-49 demo is actually equal to 1.265 million viewers. So, a show like Community that fetches somewhere near a 2.0 on a good week, receives closer to 2.3 million Nielsen viewers rather than 4 million. Moreover, a ratings point in overall households this television season will equal 1.142 million viewers, so a show like Castle, which sits around a 9.0 household rating will have around 10 million viewers.
For a complete list of the value of a ratings point in each demo, check out TVByThe Numbers. It might also be interesting to note the number of people in each demographic. For instance, there are around 40 million children ages 2-11, while there are 115 million households, and around 126 million viewers between 18 and 49.
If you really want to get wonky, you might also be interested in the size of each local television market. For instance, here are the 10 largest television markets, the number of people in that market, and the percentage of the US population that entails:
1. New York, 7,384,340 (6.47%)
2. Los Angeles, 5,613,460 (4.92%)
3. Chicago, 3,484,800 (3.05%)
4. Philadelphia, 2,949,310 (2.58%)
5. Dallas-Ft. Worth, 2,588,020 (2.27%)
6. San Francisco-Oak-San Jose, 2,502,030 (2.19%)
7. Boston (Manchester), 2,366,690 (2.07%)
8. Washington, DC (Hagrstwn), 2,359,160 (2.07%)
9. Atlanta, 2,326,840 (2.04%)
10. Houston, 2,215,650 (1.94%)
If you’d like to see where your market is on the list of all 210 US television markets, do check out the list on TVByTheNumbers.
I apologize for the wonkery. We will return you to your regularly scheduled coverage of Community and Breaking Bad in the next hour. Meanwhile, here’s a gif of Christina Hendricks.