A reader from Loganville, Georgia named Jim asks, “Is there any way they (satellite company, broadcaster, advertiser) can know what TV show I am watching? I believe NOT! How are TV ratings derived?”
The short answer is that increasingly, yes, satellite TV companies and especially streaming services such as Netflix can tell exactly what you’re watching, particularly if your set-top box is Internet-connected and you’re watching video-on-demand programming. Traditional broadcast signals, non-Internet satellite boxes and non-Internet cable boxes typically don’t have a way to transmit that data back.
However viewing becomes increasingly tough to track for broadcasters, cable companies and TV networks as people watch television on multiple devices. The industry is in the middle of a transition to try to get a better handle on viewership habits, with several options on the table and hopes that something will work out by next year.
That said, these players, especially in local markets, still rely on third-party Nielsen ratings information. It works by sampling U.S. families and what they watch (and what they stream and DVR) and then extrapolating that data into an estimate of how many people are watching a show. Nielsen recently added ratings information for Netflix, a company that typically is pretty tight-lipped about its rating numbers. Advertisers are more likely to trust information from Nielsen than if each broadcaster was trying to track its own viewership and compare it to everybody else’s.
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