July 16, 2012
Playing the MLB All-Star Game Television Ratings Game
Television ratings are a funny thing. The spin that can come out of the numbers can drive reports in wildly divergent directions. In sports, ratings can be spun to say that the popularity of a given league or club is high or low, depending on those feeding the information. Of course, leagues and clubs love to tout growth, while detractors can spin numbers negatively. For Major League Baseball, ratings have been used to show that the game’s popularity is on the rise, while others have pounded keys to say that it’s a “dying sport.”
So, which one is it? As is often the case in data analysis, the truth can lie in the middle. Before we get started, let’s give a quick primer on what the ratings numbers mean.
Nielsen ratings are a measurement put together by Nielsen Media Research seeking to measure the television audience size for programming in the United States. It does not cover Canada or other international markets where the programming might reach. While it’s the industry-standard, the system has its detractors. It’s not a wholly random sampling of U.S. television viewership. Nielsen picks a small number of viewers in comparison to all television households, and from there, extrapolates how many are viewing. Because of this, counts for communal viewing places like sports bars and college dorms are not factored into the numbers. Based on data provided by Nielsen (but no longer through their site, as the link off Wikipedia is now dead), “in 2009 of the 114,500,000 U.S. television households only 25,000 total American households (0.02183% of the total) participated in the Nielsen daily metered system.”
The system works like this: The numbers are split into two metrics that are joined together. One is the ratings number, the other denotes the “share.” An example would be this: 4.4 household rating/8 share. Nielsen presents this as 4.4 percent of all television households (in other words, homes that have TVs) tuning in to watch programming, while 8 percent of the people in the homes watched. This metric split makes sense: not all people in a household enjoy the same television programming. The other number that is often cited is total viewers, an indication of how many tuned in irrespective of percentage.
Was the 2012 All-Star Game a Ratings Hit or Miss?
So, this was good, right? That depends. First off, you’ll note that I said, “the morning after.” That’s because Nielsen releases what they call “fast overnight” numbers. This is before a complete analysis is finalized, which gets released later in the day.