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Media companies freaking out because they don't know how measure TV ratings anymore

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So I read late last night that pretty much every TV show this summer has crashed and burned. You can attribute that any number of things. One, it’s summer and no one watches TV then. Two, the shows were absolutely terrible. Three, maybe people were watching, but the proliferation of the likes of Hulu have totally messed with Hollywood’s ability to actually count how many people watch its shows.

My belief is that the shows stunk on ice, but then you look at the actual hits (“More to Love” and “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” did well) and you half-wish a meteor would smash into the planet, so disappointed you are with your fellow citizens. By that third issue, how to accurately count how many people actually watch TV, is what concerns us right now.

Several big media companies, including Time Warner, NBC Universal, and News Corp, have formed a consortium to better figure out how to measure ratings. Nielsen, which has been in charge of figuring out media ratings since the dawn of man—I filled out a radio ratings book for the company last winter—,isn’t doing a good enough job, apparently. So, with advertisers freaking out, the media companies have stepped in.

The idea isn’t to outright replace Nielsen, but to figure out how to better count today’s viewers. People still watch TV live, sure, but then there’s time-shifted viewings (DVR), Internet sites (like Hulu), and Lord knows what else. The days of polling an 18,000-strong sample size to determine what America watches and doesn’t watch appears to be over. That’s what the big media companies would say.

Nielsen does have some sort of “panel” that also asks people to keep track of their online views, too, but it won’t be fully operational till 2011.

I don’t know, maybe now’s the time to pitch my idea of a TV sitcom about a rogue New York City subway river that stop wherever he damn well pleases.

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