How should I report sports TV ratings going forward?

It’s been hard for me to get my mind off of the Sports TV Ratings site since I discovered it last week. Since I raised my concerns about it potentially being shut down by Nielsen, I’ve found out that the site appears to be run by none other than Robert Seidman, co-founder of the TV by the Numbers site, who presumably either has the credentials to avoid being shut down or at least knows how to stay on Nielsen’s good side. But if the site is in it for the long haul, it’s so ridiculously comprehensive that it could completely shake up how I track sports ratings – and affect the necessity for me to do so.

I’ve generally tweeted whatever I’ve found from TVBTN or TV Media Insights (and the Futon Critic before it) each day, and TVMI reported so many more sports numbers than the Futon Critic I ended up putting up a post recapping the weekend, which for the moment got integrated with the Sports Ratings Highlights, but this site blows that system out of the water by giving me access to every single sports event on an English-language all-sports network, pretty close to as soon as the numbers are available. At the very least, if I still wanted to put up daily ratings I’d be putting up blog posts every single day, and that’s not even getting into the possibility of bringing back the Studio Show Scorecard and bringing it to the point I’ve always had in mind for it. But if I were to do that, I’d be leaning so heavily on STVR I can’t help but wonder if my posts would be redundant with its posts. Reorganizing SotB data into a more viewer-friendly format for the first version of the Studio Show Scorecard is one thing, but this would basically be taking STVR posts, one at a time, and shuffling the data around into a new format that might not be much of an improvement over what it already has. Still, just for myself it may be the best way to compile each day’s sports ratings for my own database.

Although doing a full-fledged SSS may not be all that useful in any case. At the bottom of each daily STVR post is a disclaimer that audiences under 100K or so are considered by Nielsen to be a “scratch”, meaning the audience is too small to be all that statistically significant. Considering how widespread audiences of all sizes seem to be reported these days I’m not sure that isn’t Seidman extrapolating from his experiences several years ago, when CNBC would scratch all the time on TVBTN’s own cable news scorecards, to today when Nielsen may or may not still be scratching small audiences, but it makes sense. There are only around 50,000 Nielsen panelists, and each panelist represents around 5,800 people, so a) audiences below 6,000 or so are really just measuring the random fluctuations of people that happen to be dropping in with no more than one or two panelists actually purposely watching the show, and b) in general the thousands place is determined more by those fluctuations than by how many panelists are actually watching, since each panelist that does or does not sit through the whole thing makes a 5-6 thousand person swing in the measured audience, which explains why Sports Media Watch never brings up the thousands place unless I needle him (according to the laws of statistics, the absolute number actually gets less accurate as the audience gets bigger, but slowly).

It’s still somewhat useful as a tiebreaker on the big listings, but until you get to around 22,000 or so there isn’t better than a 95% chance that the three or four panelists watching aren’t the only ones in the entire country watching; a show with an audience of about 5,000 could easily have several times that number and is being measured for less solely through the luck of the Nielsen panelist draw, or conversely an even smaller audience. All that is to set up that the only networks that can consistently attract audiences over 100,000 for their studio shows, or anything other than live sports events, are ESPN, ESPN2, and maybe NFL Network, which is bad news for FS1 and NBCSN, the two networks with the most high-profile studio shows outside the ESPNs but which fall behind multiple sport-specific networks as a matter of course, for whatever those numbers are worth. If I want to report only shows for whom the numbers are actually statistically significant, maybe I should stick to those live sports events, at least for the moment until non-ESPN studio shows can attract a significant audience. (And Douglas Pucci on Awful Announcing may be on to something by just listing weekly averages for studio shows that didn’t crack their networks’ top ten, even if it’s mostly a means to avoid getting shut down by Nielsen again; averages across multiple episodes should be more accurate than just one.)

I have a new Da Blog Poll up to figure out what I should do going forward, which I’m going to run through the end of next week in hopes of catching people coming back from holiday break, but no matter what the utility of every other site I use as a source could be impacted just by bringing STVR into the fold. TV Media Insights is mostly useful for ratings for broadcast networks and the occasional household rating and ratings for Spanish-language networks and other networks not covered by STVR; this last category cuts further enough into TVBTN’s usefulness that it pretty much only becomes useful for daytime events on non-STVR networks. Pucci’s Awful Announcing posts would be useful for household ratings and that’s it, maybe the occasional event on a non-STVR network. Even the weekly averages would only be useful for the yearly comparisons… and even then at some point I could conceivably make those comparisons myself. For that matter, I’m not sure AA would have much use for him once they discovered STVR. The only sources that wouldn’t be appreciably affected would be SportsBusiness Daily and Sports Media Watch for their daytime broadcast ratings, and even though my issues with CBS seem to have been alleviated as the year has gone along, SBD’s continued tendency to drop their posts after holiday-related delays or when Friday is a holiday makes clear that broadcast daytime ratings really are the weak spot when it comes to the reporting of sports ratings, more than ever before.

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