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A Truly Sad Day for Sports TV Ratings

Kyle Koster
Lo Chun Kit/GettyImages
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In what figures to be a devastating blow for ratings enthusiasts and those who decide the merits of something based its ratings, Nielsen today announced publicly that it's been miscounting out-of-home audiences for over a year. Per Variety:

The media-measurement giant informed TV networks and other clients Wednesday that it has, since September of 2020, undercounted so-called “out-of-home” audiences — the people watching programs in offices, bars, hotels and other places — for national TV programming. Nielsen cited a “software issue” for the problem, and vowed to release corrected estimates starting in mid-January of next year. But the process, Nielsen said, is likely to take longer to remedy. Audience data for some of the months won’t be available until February, and release of information about out of home viewership between September and December of last year is still “TBD,” Nielsen said in its memo.

Hmm. Bars. Hotels. Other places. These seem like venues where people watch sports. The horror.

“As part of routine testing and quality controls, we recently identified an error that caused an understatement of reported out-of-home audiences for our National TV service. While there is no impact to most telecasts, and no impact to local television, we did find some variances for events that tend to yield larger out-of-home audiences, such as live sporting events,” Nielsen said in a statement. “The error has been corrected and Nielsen will be reissuing data from January 2021 to present in order to provide the industry with the most complete data.”

The implications here are enormous. Thinkpieces on the NFL and NBA dying because audiences don't like the humans inside the uniforms advocating for life to get better may be built upon faulty data. Baseball may not, in fact, be dying but simply not being given credit for its popularity at VFW halls. We cannot truly know how many millions of Americans are arguing about Aaron Rodgers as the Packers quarterback salts away an opponent.

Sad. What are we supposed to now? Just watch the games for what they are without worrying what type of number it draws for a rights partner who don't work for? Say it ain't so.

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