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Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad

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Scott Roberts
Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad
on Jul 26, 2012 at 5:02:18 pm

I know that we've had a semi-huge discussion on Nielson ratings here in the FH&A forum before (http://forums.creativecow.net/readpost/267/3161), but without going back and rereading the whole thing I don't remember how it ended or what specifically was said (hey, I'm a lazy internet reader).

But the folks over at Warming Glow have once again ranted against the Nielson ratings and how the networks rely too heavily on what those ratings are in determining advertisers and dictating what shows get renewed. This time they used Breaking Bad as an example.

I don't know, I find this stuff interesting/frustrating...!

http://www.uproxx.com/tv/2012/07/breaking-bad-nielsen-ratings/


The post (copy/pasted for your convenience):

This is how maddening Nielsen ratings are. After the season debut of Breaking Bad opened with 2.9 million viewers, the second week shed 21 percent of its audience according to Nielsen.

But did it really?

I mean, just think about it: Does anyone actually think that, after waiting nearly a year to get Breaking Bad back into their lives, and after hundreds of thousands of people became addicted to the show on Netflix, and after one hell of an awesome season opener, that suddenly 600,000 people decided, “Ah, f–k it. This show’s for the birds. I’m going to watch The Bachelorette instead”?

Of course not.

Almost certainly what happened was this: Because it was the first episode, more people watched it live because they were anxious for its return. The second episode, maybe 600,000 people thought, “Eh, it’s Sunday at 10 p.m. It’s been a long weekend. I’m beat. I’m going to go have sex with my wife and fall asleep. Breaking Bad will still be there tomorrow.”

The fact that advertisers rely SO heavily on Nielsens is absurd. To actually believe that only 2.3 or 2.9 million people watch Breaking Bad in the first place is dumb. Hell, there are probably 2.9 million people commenting on episode recaps of Breaking Bad around the web. Why do all glossy print magazines devote so much copy to shows that only get 3 million viewers, like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, instead of giving every cover to the cast of NCIS?

There’s a serious disconnect between Nielsen ratings and reality.

Here’s an interesting juxtaposition that demonstrates the point. Over on IMDb, Breaking Bad has a 9.4 user rating. NCIS has a 7.8 user rating. American Idol has a 4.4 user rating. But let’s put aside the ratings, and focus on the number of users that voted. Breaking Bad has had 100,000 users vote in four years. NCIS, the top rated scripted program in America, has had 20,000 people vote in eight years. American Idol, the highest rated show for the last decade, has had only 12,000 user votes. What does that say? At the very least, it says that Breaking Bad has 5 times more passionate, Internet savvy viewers than NCIS. Who is going to buy that iPad advertised during commercials? The passionate, Internet savvy user? Or the old guy that falls asleep halfway through a procedural?

Try a google search: Breaking Bad fetches 300 million results. NCIS fetched 47 million. Now, check Amazon: The first season of Breaking Bad is #61 among all DVD sales. The first season of NCIS is #1,719. What’s the biggest selling television episode on iTunes right now? This week’s episode of Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad was the fourth most downloaded show on iTunes in ALL of 2011. Has an episode of NCIS ever even broken the Top 50? Moreover, in the last six weeks, the fourth season of Breaking Bad has sold $10 million in DVDs.

There are probably dozens of metrics you could use, and in every single one of them except one — the Nielsen ratings — Breaking Bad would come out ahead. So tell me? Which is the more popular show? The one that you and all your friend watch? Or the one that Nielsen says is most popular?


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Stephen Smith
Re: Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad
on Jul 26, 2012 at 5:53:49 pm

Scott, sounds like you need to spend more time at the NCIS fan club :-) http://ncis-fanclub.webs.com/

Where Scott's obsession for NCIS can come alive! :-)

I think you will like the "30 reasons why I love ncis" post. #10. Abby owns a farting hippo toy.

I have never seen NCIS and well I think...never mind, I'm out of here.

Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Vimeo page


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Tim Wilson
Re: Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad
on Jul 26, 2012 at 6:50:06 pm

[Scott Roberts] "This is how maddening Nielsen ratings are. After the season debut of Breaking Bad opened with 2.9 million viewers, the second week shed 21 percent of its audience according to Nielsen.

But did it really?

I mean, just think about it: Does anyone actually think that, after waiting nearly a year to get Breaking Bad back into their lives, and after hundreds of thousands of people became addicted to the show on Netflix, and after one hell of an awesome season opener, that suddenly 600,000 people decided, “Ah, f–k it. This show’s for the birds. I’m going to watch The Bachelorette instead”?"


Yes, you have that exactly right. That is PRECISELY what is happening.

Except maybe The Bachelorette part.

Because as maddening as Nielsen ratings are to you, they're accurate enough to sustain a market of $70 billion, and are getting more accurate all the time.

The reason why so many more people tuned in isn't that Breaking Bad materialized an audience out of thin air while it wasn't on for a year.

It's that the hype you mention drove them to check out a show they'd never watched before, only to find out that a) it's not all that easy to follow a story that has gone on for 4 years already, and b) that nice Bryan Cranston fellow isn't very nice on this show, and c) they don't feel good after having watched it.

I'll get to D in a minute, but re: a) not all of those people had been waiting. They were pimped into watching. Look at the math: premiere was up 22% over last year. Second episode down by 21% vs. last week. Net result: about the same-sized audience, NOT a train wreck or inexplicable crash. 100% explicable.

As for the show's relatively low ratings overall, it's easy to forget after 4 years that Walter is an anti-hero. Not a hero. Gilligan himself has said that Walter is a monster. (He thinks almost everyone is a monster, and it will only take a couple of bounces to reveal it - not CAUSE people to become monsters, but to REVEAL the monster they already are.

But coming in fresh, people don't generally invite anti-heroes into their home for any length of time. Name a big show built around an antihero. Sopranos? Tony was freaking everyman by comparison: a disappointment to his mother, lionizes his absent abusive father, doesn't understand his teenagers, stays in a loveless marriage solely for the sake of appearance, and hates his job so much that it drives him to a shrink. Not cuddly, but not an anti-hero.

So what successful shows are built around real anti-heroes? Sons of Anarchy? The Simpsons? Uhm, Damages? Really? No, here's what big-audience shows are built around anti-heroes: none.

(For that matter, when was the last successful movie built around an anti-hero? Especially where the anti-hero doesn't die. Training Day would have been so much better if Denzel's character put his hands in his coat pockets, turns away from the camera with a gentle chuckle and walks away, while the kid cop is the one laying in a bloody puddle behind him.)

Y'know, maybe Mad Men is a show built around anti-heroes...which has only a hair higher ratings than Breaking Bad, and has TONS more hype. So as hard as AMC bangs the drum for Mad Men, it can only barely edge out Breaking Bad? That sounds like good news for Breaking Bad to me.

But Walking Dead is bigger than both combined because even if an individual character is annoying as shit (and almost all of them are), everybody relates to wanting to put a shovel in a zombie's head.

Breaking Bad is just a show. People had good reasons to show up and check it out, and they had good reasons to decide it's not for them.

Or at least I think so, because I'm a, b AND c. I watch zombies, and don't watch Mad Men or Breaking Bad. I checked out those two and didn't care for them.

Now here's D. There are people who watched the premiere of Breaking Bad, LOVED IT, but are still A (no fun to come in this late) but are now D) going to Netflix to watch the first four seasons. In the meantime, they'll watch the current episodes on demand (no ratings benefit for intervening episodes, although they DO factor into advertising value), and show up in time for the record-breaking finale.

Dude, I know you're lazy, but go back and read what I wrote. The Nielsen ratings are still around because the people who spent $16 BILLION in advertising last year find the numbers work out. Because if there wasn't a real-world dollar correlation between ratings, ad spending and results, they'd peel off a tiny bit of that $16 billion to come up with a better system.

Oh wait, did I say $16 billion a year? That's $16 billion per QUARTER. TV advertisers spent $60 billion last year. And sales are UP this year over last year.So there's no pile of people with $70 billion to spend this year that's going to shrug and say, "Eh, whatevs." Money talks.

And in fact, the biggest advertisers do do their own tracking, and it squares up closely enough that there's nobody thinking that there's a better mousetrap in the works.

Please, it's fine for civilians to not understand how this works, and why it's getting more and more accurate over time. But we're in this business for real. It's sooooo easy to get accurate and complete information, even if just by reading my reading my reply to what you wrote six months ag... LOL

Three last quick points:

a) Amazon and Netflix ratings are terrible measures of "real" TV audiences. By definition people who pay for TV are unusually passionate. A gazillion people watch your bete noire Two & A Half Men, but I daresay virtually none of them feel a need to watch it twice.

Also note that people who BUY Breaking Bad are doing ZERO to help the ratings. They may be hurting the ratings, which is the challenge of this whole multi-platform thing (obviously another conversation).

You can also assume that many of the people buying the show are also watching the show. It doesn't reflect anything than the overlap that already exists, and while it reflects a passionate audience, advertisers aren't buying passionate audiences. Your feelings, my feelings -- irrelvant. Our eyeballs -- relevant.

b) I've never met anyone who watched American Idol who didn't hate it at least a little. Sometimes a LOT. But they can't stop watching even if they wanted to -- which they don't, because they can't take their eyes off it.

Note that the average age of the American Idol viewer is 48 -- why do you think the show's big sponsor is f*cking FORD??? Ford!! And why not? What's the average age of the Ford Mustang buyer? 51. It would be utter insanity for FOrd NOT to sponsor American Idol. It's a better audience for them than the Super Bowl, whose median age is a "mere" 43.

Anyway, most of the IMDb comments are from much younger people. If the people who watch it hate it, the people who don't watch it have even more vitriol.

If you don't understand being addicted to things you hate, then you don't understand addiction, or, obviously, American Idol.

5) Dude, you're complaining that a show that's on for 5 years is lacking love? That's how many years The Wire was on. Sopranos was only 6. Six Feet Under was 5. These all had higher ratings than Breaking Bad, and were subsidized by premium cable subscriptions. Five seasons is good. Heck, Gomer Pyle only had 4.

And no kidding, I did an AWESOME job explaining ratings. LOL Which, again, I only wrote it in an answer questions you raised, and kidding aside, to correct some serious misconceptions strongly clung to by The People.

Tim Wilson
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine
Twitter: timdoubleyou

The typos here are most likely because I'm, a) typing this on my phone; and b) an idiot.


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Scott Roberts
Re: Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad
on Jul 26, 2012 at 7:47:36 pm

[Tim Wilson] "And no kidding, I did an AWESOME job explaining ratings. LOL Which, again, I only wrote it in an answer questions you raised"

I guess I should apologize, haha. I suppose I didn't need to make you write another epic post on ratings when you already did it before... I suppose I fell victim to someone else's ramblings on why Breaking Bad is the best show on television, and got excited.

I get that ratings are more about who watches the *commercials* rather than who watches the *show* itself. But perhaps the point was to say that there is value outside of television ratings as well. It would be hard to argue against the fact that the most watched shows on television also appease the lowest common denominator of audiences, but they *do* show up in droves. And a lot of them have easily drainable wallets. "Ooooooo, a revolutionary onion chopper!"

Of course we all have a couple guilty pleasure shows and that doesn't make me a lowly person for watching them, but let's say if you're a fan of American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Bacheorette, and four or five network TV crime procedurals... you're probably not going to *want* to watch an intricate, thought provoking show like Breaking Bad.

Small, related tangent: NBC basically admitted recently they aren't going to focus on smart comedies anymore, because they'd rather crap out cute animal comedies and shows about stay at home dads (haha!) than have well written niche shows:

http://entertainment.time.com/2012/07/24/tcas-2012-nbcs-monkey-business/?

A snippet:

“We’re in a transition,” Greenblatt said. “We’re trying to broaden the audience.” And while he called the network’s Thursday roster–and Community, moving to Fridays, “great shows,” he frankly said: “We just can’t get the audience for them. They tend to be a little bit more narrow and more sophisticated than you want for a broad audience.”


And of what to do next with the NBC brand:

NBC’s “narrow,” critic-bait Thursday comedies may have been a drag on ratings, but they were its comedy brand. And “things kind of like that, but less weird and not too smart” is not a brand. You don’t win people over by promising less of something.



I totally get it. They want more money. And catering to the unintelligent is a great way to do so. "HAHAHA, THE MONKEY STOLE HIS GLASSES! HAHAHA!" The most money is likely to be made on the stupidest things.

BUT WHERE WAS I? You also have to think about the future. Will it always be this way? Does it HAVE to always be that way? HBO works entirely (or mostly?) without advertisers. They make their shows with the subscription payments from their customers. But their whole service is based on releasing (mostly) intelligent, well made, (often times) niche shows.

Netflix is starting to delve into their own product, with the *commercial free*, 100% Netflix profit Arrested Devlopment coming back. There is a way to make money outside of standard television, while still making television shows. Granted it's not as much (or even remotely close) right now to compete with advertised television, but it's a step in the future. If the future path, like NBC is heading towards, is to dumb down everything and make the most money off of idiots, then TV is going to be simply awful in the future. And I think a good chunk of TV is great right now, but I could see it going away with this "stupification" process.

At least in my opinion: broad = garbage. Just look at the People's Choice Awards and observe how terrible TV would be if it were solely left to "the people" and their spendable money.




[Tim Wilson] "
But coming in fresh, people don't generally invite anti-heroes into their home for any length of time. Name a big show built around an antihero."


Dexter is the highest rated show in the history of Showtime. The main character is a serial killer.




[Tim Wilson] "It's that the hype you mention drove them to check out a show they'd never watched before, only to find out that a) it's not all that easy to follow a story that has gone on for 4 years already,"

Well, I wouldn't advise anyone to walk into a show blind in the beginning of its fifth season. Especially one with a continuous plot line. Have fun walking into Inception an hour and fifty minutes into it and attempting to figure out what's happening. That's just a dumb move. Play catch-up first. Which is what a lot of people did. Three people in my office watched Breaking Bad from the beginning to the end of season four in the last year. Admittedly, i didn't watch the first three seasons as they aired, but watched old episodes in time to catch up to the show. And we all love it because we know what's going on, and it's great.

Give or take maybe seeing an episode on random for some show, I've never just jumped into a show in the late/middle of its run and tried to just figure things out. What's the point? Just catch up first... (of course I'm only talking about scripted shows with a continuous timeline. Obviously you could watch a season 13 episode of the Simpsons, or a season 6 episode of Law & Order, and understand what's going on if you've never seen it before.)




[Tim Wilson] "So there's no pile of people with $70 billion to spend this year that's going to shrug and say, "Eh, whatevs." Money talks."

That's very true. But still sad. And I will cry about it!




[Tim Wilson] "Breaking Bad is just a show. People had good reasons to show up and check it out, and they had good reasons to decide it's not for them."

I'd say in terms of well written, non-cheesy dramatic television with a fluid story and thought provoking themes, to lump Breaking Bad in with the rest of the garbage is not entirely fair. It's complex, yet relatable on a human level that far surpasses the norm of what TV dramas usually offer.

I could see why someone who has only seen two or three random episodes would not like it. But if watched from start to current season, no one is going to quit on it. It's too good. And the character investment and promise of an ending are too enticing to give up on. I think the Warming Glow guy was right in saying that most regular viewers watched it live the opening week because it was special, and then DVR'd it the second week. I find it harder to believe that 600,000 people were just like "I'LL TRY OUT BREAKING BAD FOR SOME REASON, OOPS, NOT FOR ME!"




[Tim Wilson] "Your feelings, my feelings -- irrelvant. Our eyeballs -- relevant."

(sigh) I suppose that's all that really matters in the end, so what's the point in arguing about it. :) I CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH


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Tim Wilson
Re: Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad
on Jul 26, 2012 at 10:05:11 pm

[Scott Roberts] "I find it harder to believe that 600,000 people were just like "I'LL TRY OUT BREAKING BAD FOR SOME REASON, OOPS, NOT FOR ME!""

But that's not necessarily what happened. I gave 4 possible scenarios, three of which involved people EVENTUALLY watching every episode -- yet which account for why they're not tuning in for the forseeable future.

That said, I'm scenario 4. Enthusiasm from people like you got me to watch, I agree it's well-crafted, and I don't want to see it again. Thanks, though. Always glad to know that there are people doing work this good.

re: Dexter, he's not a serial killer, any more than Tony Soprano was a murderous gangster. Tony is Everyman, and Dexter is a vigilante who lives by The Code. Violent men who break laws in the name of The Code are perhaps the ultimate pop cultural American heroes. Rooster Cogburn! Sam Spade! Batman! Pretty much every Charles Bronson character! That dude in Unforgiven! Liam Neeson in Taken! We understand The Code. We agree with The Code. We agree with The Hero that The Law must be discarded when it gets in the way of The Code.

Anti-hero would be if Dexter is the one who killed his wife and left her floating in a tub of blood. Instead, he's the hero who tracks down and slaughters that guy. We absolutely identify with him. We want him to succeed. We want to live in a world with the moral clarity and consistency that Dexter lives in.

Actually, I don't think most people actually do. It'd drive them as crazy as it drives Dexter. They just want to THINK they want that kind of morality. Same with killing. People "want" to kill bad guys -- but they don't really want that, and they know it. It's just fun to think about. Which means that audiences are living vicariously through both Dexter's morality AND his (otherwise) immorality. Very cool idea, but still kinda meta for The People.

For the record, note that Dexter's top rated ep was the Season 4 finale in 2009 - 2.3 million viewers. Oops. Less than last week's Breaking Bad, which had 2.9 million.

The thing is, you've been watching Sympathetic Cancer Guy turn dark over 4 seasons. Hundreds of thousands of people showed up to find Dark Meth Guy. It's just not the same.

Everybody loves murder. Nobody loves meth. Walter's not even a pretty lady who regularly gets naked moving pot, which people love almost as much as they love murder. (Referring to pot, rather than the naked part.) That Breaking Bad is on for a 5th season is a miracle to be celebrated.

On behalf of my brothers and sisters in Creative COW, I also want to remind you that advertising has the power to draw a crowd. I don't see how AMC could possibly have done more to market the show. It worked. But I hope you can empathize with people who show up, meet Dark Meth Guy and decide they don't want him in their bedroom until 11 PM Sunday, when, by the time they get to sleep, they'll have to wake the kids for school in 6 or 7 hours -- and decide to watch something a little lighter, eg, anything.

Thinking about this some more, though, I thought of another show that features an actual anti-hero: Boardwalk Empire. Except there, Season 2's premiere was down 39% from the pilot, leaving an audience of...wait for it... 2.9 million. But I suspect that the ratings will drop from there, don't you think?

Are you seeing a pattern here? Virtually identical ratings for all of these, with poor Dexter trailing the pack. But the number is the number. There are clearly only around 3 million of you sick bastards, tops. LOL

Net net: Breaking Bad ratings are the same this year as last year. Not Nielsen's problem. LOL

Tim Wilson
Vice President, Editor-in-Chief
Creative COW Magazine
Twitter: timdoubleyou

The typos here are most likely because I'm, a) typing this on my phone; and b) an idiot.


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Scott Roberts
Re: Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad
on Jul 27, 2012 at 2:54:47 pm

[Tim Wilson] " There are clearly only around 3 million of you sick bastards, tops. LOL"

Haha, as I was reading the numbers throughout your post I was thinking, "Gee, it sure seems like there are just 3 million of us who watch these horribly dark shows". But I think you said it best there, haha. Well, I'd rather be part of the good 3 million, than the bad 15-20 million (who watch Big Bang Theory and NCIS).



[Tim Wilson] "re: Dexter, he's not a serial killer, any more than Tony Soprano was a murderous gangster."

I don't know if you've watched the whole series, but Dexter has had plenty of moments of losing control and going "full on angry psycho". I would definitely consider him an anti-hero. Don't forget, he's killing bad guys, but he still gets sick, sadistic pleasure from doing so. And who's to say that his judgement is the correct judgement? He's killed innocent people (sometimes accidentally, sometimes not) on the show before.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Nielson Ratings vs. Breaking Bad
on Jul 27, 2012 at 4:55:10 pm

[Scott Roberts] "Don't forget, he's killing bad guys, but he still gets sick, sadistic pleasure from doing so. And who's to say that his judgement is the correct judgement? He's killed innocent people (sometimes accidentally, sometimes not) on the show before."

I still say that the violent man who lives by a self-defined Code outside the Law is the most distinctive -- maybe the ONLY distinctive -- American hero. Other ethical considerations are irrelevant. Running off the rails just means he's a hero with a tragic flaw, which goes back to the days of Greek epic poetry.

Dexter also follows the most traditional arc of the hero going back thousands of years. Campbell talks about this in Hero With A Thousand Faces, including the heroic journey's roots in the father, and the the notion that it's harder to return from the journey and reintegrate into civilized society than the journey itself.

I'm not budging off that point of view. Dexter is a hero. But even if I concede that he's an anti-hero, he's bringing up the rear in the anti-hero ratings...which I think is the case precisely because people got increasingly uncomfortable with identifying with this guy as their hero. Oh yeah, and Lithgow is gone. LOL But I think its dual nature is its genius -- we identify with both his Code and his execution (haha) of it. If he just shot those guys, there'd be no catharsis.

Anyway...

[Scott Roberts] "Well, I'd rather be part of the good 3 million, than the bad 15-20 million (who watch Big Bang Theory and NCIS)."

Have mercy. My attempt to watch Big Bang Theory after its 2 millionth award for something or other -- among the most unpleasant TV experiences of my life.

It's conceivable that I'll get over my issues with Breaking Bad - I really do keep trying. But BBT? If I ever say anything nice about that show, strap me to a metal table and peel back my skin.


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