By: Debbie Kaufman
Recently some people I know became members of the Nielsen Television Ratings families. What this means is that what they watch actually has a direct influence on television ratings. The Nielsen folks came out to their house and hooked up a special box called a “People Meter.” According to the Nielsen website, here’s how it works:
“Our national sample, composed of a cross-section of nearly 10,000 representative homes throughout the United States, is measured by People Meters, a technology that has been in place since 1987. These meters give us information about not only what is being viewed on the set, but also exactly which members of the household are watching.
The People Meter is a “box” — about the size of a paperback book — that's hooked up to each television set and is accompanied by a remote control unit. Each family member in a sample household is assigned a personal viewing button, which is matched to that person's age and sex. Whenever the TV is turned on, a light flashes on the meter, reminding viewers to press their assigned button and to indicate that they're watching television.”
Pretty cool, huh? Fortunately for my viewing preferences, we like a lot of the same shows. So, maybe those will get renewed for another season.
Like a book’s sales figures, TV ratings tell us a lot about what TV shows are popular. But, what it doesn’t tell us is why that show is a favorite. Is it the drama, the humor, the plot line, the characters, the sexual tension, the true-life basis of the show, the competition involved? Just what is it that keeps us tuning in week after week?
I have a close friend with no TIVO/DVR. I know, it’s shocking. She is totally addicted to So You Think You Can Dance. She will plan her evening around getting to watch that show. You can be in the middle of a friendly conversation and the next thing you know, she’s got to go because “her show” is coming on. It’s just that important to her. What does she love about it? She says it’s the beauty of the dance, the costuming, the choreography. But it’s also that this show doesn’t go into the backstage negativity and chatter that a lot of others do.
In my case, one of my favorite shows is The Closer, currently #3 in the ratings for cable shows. I watch (DVR) each episode not only because I like the plot lines, but because I love the character. We have a choco-holic, middle-aged Southern woman whose accent always gets her IQ knocked down a few points in the bad guys’ minds, yet she kicks bad guy butt every week. What’s not to love?
I love action, adventure, crime, and other similarly oriented shows. However, without a strong character(s) with a good developing story arc over the series, I can’t be bothered to tune in. I’m kind of the same in my book choices. I read very eclectically with a strong emphasis on series suspense. I read authors as diverse as Mae Nunn is from Rita Heron, or as different as Stephanie Bond is from Lee Child. What makes the choice for me? Like my TV choices, it is the strong character(s)’s personality and their development over the book or series.
Bottom line: TV ratings and book sales can tell us what’s popular, but not always why. What’s important to you in a TV show, a movie, or a good book? What keeps you tuning back in or buying an author’s latest release? Tell us what the ratings or sales figures don’t specify.