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The Television Ratings Game: What Is Right for You?

June 7th, 2016   ||    by Melanie Brown

Once upon a time, Nielsen television ratings were the only TV ratings. The audience measurement system was developed during the 1930s to provide information on the audiences of radio programs in the United States, and when the American audience turned to television in the 1950s, so did Nielsen’s ratings system.

For decades, the data that Nielsen gathered throughout the 210 DMAs, via “diaries” or televisions connected to meters, was the only TV ratings data available. Because no one else had anything like it, any holes in the data were largely ignored, and the Nielsen rating became the currency of media buying.

Such is not the case anymore. Over the past few years, efforts by Rentrak, Kantar, and comScore have emerged as competitors to Nielsen’s ratings system, which, of course, has its advantages and disadvantages.


Nielsen is a mammoth in the world of media ratings. The measurement company created the ratings system, and went unparalleled for so long that Nielsen actually established the traditional demographics that media buyers still use as a base for audience targeting. By far, Nielsen has the most notoriety in the industry, and is the best indicator of which programming is successful and which is not based on the number of viewers.

The criticisms of Nielsen television ratings data largely surround the outdated mode by which the data is collected: Nielsen ratings don’t take into account newer modes of viewing like smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other streaming devices. Nielsen also doesn’t rate televisions outside the home, so any sports bar, college campus, or hospital that has televisions goes unrated.

Likely one of the most important things to note about Nielsen is that its data is basal. It’s a foundational ratings system that puts broad demographics into action, and is immensely valuable to buyers as a starting point.


At the end of 2015, Rentrak and comScore announced a merger that many believe will give Nielsen’s traditional ratings system some real competition, as Forbes reported.

Rentrak’s data picked up where Nielsen left off, developing ratings and data for Video On Demand (VOD), set top box, and movie box office viewing. ComScore’s data comprised consumer web activity and leveraged the online data that is now crucial to understanding audiences.

Combined, the two companies are now offering advertisers something that incorporates the whole of the content viewing space. Blending television with mobile, online, and connected TV viewing data gives media buyers a whole picture view of their audience. Cross-platform measurement, previously just a lusted-after ideal, is becoming a reality for media buyers.


Kantar’s television ratings system blends measurement of linear, live broadcasts with that of time-shifted viewing, both in the context of VOD and over-the-top streaming devices. That means that in addition to rating programming as it airs, Kantar is also rating the programming its audience watches on-demand or streams on a mobile device or tablet.

Kantar’s data is cross-channel, already established as the way of the future, and layered, but its reach isn’t incredibly broad. That’s why Kantar partners with companies like Rentrak, Convertro, and Google to increase the size of its data and ratings footprint.

The data boom has buyers across all media looking for broader, more layered, and more in-depth information on their audiences. In our increasingly digital world, there is so much data out there, and when it comes to TV ratings, the answer usually isn’t one or the other. Instead, complementing a traditional television ratings system with supplemental data can be a good solution.

Interested to hear more about TV ratings? Contact Videa.

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