Happening to Prime Time?
ongoing series of Forums on prime time television will feature
some leading TV scholars and media professionals.
To help us understand the forces shaping contemporary prime
time by looking in part to television's past. What is the state
of television drama in this era of profound social, economic
and technological transition? How have cable and satellite networks
and the emergence of the Internet altered the TV medium and
its story-telling functions? How are contemporary political
realities shaping prime time television? What is the future
of "reality programs"? Our speakers and our always
lively audience will engage these and related questions with
their usual passion and civility.
D. Whiting is president and chief executive officer of Nielsen
Media Research. Nielsen Media Research currently has approximately
65 cable and network clients and hundreds of local cable customers.
Thomas Streeter is an associate professor in the Department
of Sociology at the University of Vermont. His Selling the
Air: A Critique of the Policy of Commercial Broadcasting in
the United States won the McGannon Award for Social and
Ethical Relevance in Communication Policy Research.
is going to change more in the next ten years than it has in
the last 30, according to Susan Whiting, president and
CEO of Nielsen Media Research.
this change include digital television, the explosion of cable
channels and programming, and consumer devices such as VCRs,
TiVo and high-definition television (HDTV), Whiting said.
the greatest alarm, and getting the most attention from the
television industry, are the time-shifting [technologies] and
personal video recorders, which are like VCRs on steroids,"
Whiting said. The alarm arises from the potential impact on
advertising of consumers using devices that make the purchase
of prime-time slots irrelevant or that skip commercials entirely,
company rates the number of viewers watching specific television
shows by recording and delivering a daily sample of the viewing
choices of 5,100 households, about 13,000 people, across the
US. The Nielsen ratings affect $56 billion in television advertising
sales every year, Whiting said.
But as television
viewing patterns change, so must television ratings methods,
we measure today is inside the household, but a lot of television
viewing happens outside the house at work, at school, in dorms,
bars, and restaurants," she explained.
by Nielsen to measure dorm viewing has been to include college-age
viewers among the 5,100 sample households, she said. Another
was to start NetRatings, a service to measure viewing habits
by young people, who tend towards a "very converged world
between television and the Internet," often using them
Holy Grail of television measurement would be completely passive,"
requiring none of the actions people in Nielsen households now
do, such as keeping a diary, to confirm they're watching one
show or another, Whiting said. The Grail would allow measuring
peripatetic viewing habits.
also noted Nielsen was expanding its reach to measure viewing
activity by "zappers," people who watch several shows
almost at once, and by children starting at age 2.
have stickers and coloring books so they know when they're watching
television they're supposed to punch in," Whiting said
of the pre-pre-school set.
Streeter, associate professor of sociology at the University
of Vermont and author of Selling the Air, a critique
of commercial broadcasting, responded to Whiting's remarks in
the discussion that followed.
proposed a rating system for television inspired by the search
engine Google, which "judged value by looking at how Internet
users judged value. It was measurement not of an audience but
by an audience," in contrast to the Nielsen method.
-- photos by Lilly Kam
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