Understanding the Nielsen Ratings

What are the Nielson Ratings?

Nielsen ratings are the audience measurement systems developed by the Nielsen Company, in an effort to determine the audience size and composition of television programming in the United States and has been in use since the 1950s.


Reading the ratings.

The Nielson ratings are expressed using three measurements: ratings, share and ranking and is shown in the below format.

Example: 13.8 rating, 26 share, 1st (15th for the week)

The first number (the rating) represents the number of television equipped households which tuned in to watch that episode. Each rating point represents 1 percent of total television equipped households in the US, which at the time of MacGyver’s original airing was around 950,000 households. (Nielsen re-estimates the number of TV-equipped households each August for the upcoming television season.)

The second number (the share) is the percentage of television sets in use at the time that tuned to the program.

The third number (the ranking) tells how the episode ranked against its competition on the other networks.

The fourth number shows how the episode fared against all of the other programs shown for the week.

So for the above example, which is for The Stringer episode, we can see that it drew 13.8 million viewers. 26 percent of the television sets on at the time were tuned to the show, which won its time slot for the night and placed 15th for the week.


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