Nielsen Mistake Means Ratings Are Even Lower Than We Thought

Gaffe at season’s start couldn’t have come at a worse time

Given that it premiered Sunday night, it seems like the right time to ask: Is The Walking Dead the only thing young people watch?

This past season, the AMC show ranked No. 1 among men and women across all of broadcast and cable, with an average 18-34 rating of 3.09 among women and 3.78 among men. Among women, the next best showing was by ABC’s Scandal, drawing a little more than half Dead’s audience (1.66 million); among men, not counting broadcast sports, the next place show—with far less than half, at 1.7 million—was Fox’s Family Guy.

Or at least we thought this was the case. Last Friday, Nielsen announced (quietly) that it has been overestimating live-plus-same-day deliveries since at least March. Data since the beginning of the broadcast season will be reissued; the first batch of C3 ratings, which Nielsen said are error-free, came out over the weekend.

“This data represents between 0.1 percent and 0.25 percent of all viewing minutes that we credit nationally,” a spokesperson said. “In the vast majority of cases, the impact is small; in a handful of cases, the impact is more significant.”

That handful appears to affect mostly ABC where L+SD has gotten an unusual bump—though it is worth pointing out that if fast national data is correct (which it appears to be), the net still has several hits on its hands, notably How to Get Away With Murder.

The other problem, of course, is that this is terrible timing for Nielsen. Two weeks ago, Zenith Optimedia said it would test out Rentrak data for use as currency in three markets. (The media agency walked back its statement from a few days previous that it would be making Rentrak “The Currency”—caps theirs.)

“Nielsen’s stock tanked [last Thursday], and Rentrak’s is up 15 percent,” said Pivotal’s Brian Wieser. “You’ve got two reasons to be negative on Nielsen: One is TV’s dying, don’t you know.” (Wieser doesn’t think this is the case, but he knows other people believe it.) “And the other is that, as they say, if the thunder don’t get you, then the lightning will. They had a press conference on Friday, and my clients were going, ‘Oh, is this about the Rentrak stuff?’ You want to talk about a trifecta of bad news.”