The Nielsen Ratings

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detail from Plak-Tow #4 (February 21, 1968) "It's 'A Private Little War' against the Nielsens — write NBC"

Gaming the System

From a fan in May 1968:

...keep on telling NBC what we think of that time slot. Let them know by letters, cards, wires, phone calls, phasers and/or demonstrations, that ST deserves to be scheduled where it will have a fighting chance in the Klingon Nielsen ratings.


You might try writing Paul Klein, NBC Audience Measurement. Jane Peyton did. Mr. Klein answered as follows—"Dear Miss Peyton... Do me one big favor; watch the show as often as you can, and when you can't watch it because you have a date, break the date and watch it anyway. We are counting on you more than you know." I'm not certain what "Audience Measurement" does, but perhaps we should let them know we are out here watching and that we're eager for them to get an accurate measurement. Several people have suggested that we might write Union Carbide, sponsor of 21st Century, suggesting that they consider sponsoring ST, It might be worth a try. And keep telling people about ST—sooner or later, even those Nielsen families may hear about it. [1]

Case Study: Beauty and the Beast

Fans of Beauty and the Beast (TV) were heavily fixated on the Nielsen Ratings. For more, see Beauty and the Beast Fandom and The Nielsen Ratings.

Fan Alternatives

Remember VOICE, the organization that was going to try to compete with Nielsen? It folded some months ago, but I have yet to hear of anyone who joined receiving a refund of their $2 membership fee. The VOICE address was Jack Ritter, VOICE [street address redacted] Seattle, Wash. 98134 Jack Ritter's address is Bt. 1, Box 840, Sumner, Wash. 98390. Shall we call the matter to his attention? [2]

But then the ratings system raised its ugly head
And Nielsen's thousand meters hissed, "The Enterprise is dead!"
The fans all started writing, and —a lovely sight to see —
A tidal wave of mail came in and covered NBC.
There is a man in Hollywood beset by Klingon plots—
The close-watched Nielsen ratings and the barely-watched time slots.
It's up to all of us to keep the E upon the screen,
So sock it to the network! For Star Trek, and for Gene! [3]

Hailing frequencies open — Well, fen, the effects of the "Save Star Trek" campaign are beginning to be felt. Letters have been pouring in to NBC, to TV Guide, and other magazines and newspapers. There was an orderly and well-publicized march on NBC in Burbank, and another on NBC in New York. At last, somebody besides Nielsen is making some noise — we are making ourselves heard. [4]

NBC has now made two please for us to stop swamping them with mail public announcements of ST's renewal. Cheerful news from Bjo Trimble — "NBC received over one million letters—and since the first announcement, they've gotten 70,000 thank-you letters!" Yes, we managed to get their attention....but how can we keep it, so that we won't have to do this all over again next year? What we need is a VOICE to drown out the Nielsens!

VOICE, a division of TECHNIC RESEARCH CORPORATION, Seattle, wants to give the public a direct representation to the networks. Letters concerning such categories as "Programming Improvement," "Program Re-scheduling," "Program Cancellation," "Advertising Saturation," and "Concepts" are categorized, tabulated and presented to the networks by VOICE. With direct representation, your complaint, request or compliment will receive the attention and consideration it deserves. VOICE, after having taken these matters to the networks, will provide members quarterly reports giving full details on their comments, decisions and commitments. VOICE will also provide to independent, network affiliates, educational and CATV stations, a copy of this report, to assist them in their local program scheduling. Annual membership in VOICE is $2. Write to Vera Heminger: [address in Auburn, Wash. 98002 redacted]. This is YOUR chance to be heard!

VOICE is registered with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General. More information will be enclosed, with this issue [of Plak-Tow] or the next, about VOICE. And a few additional facts just received—(1) clubs can send for registration cards and earn money by signing up new VOICE members; (2) VOICE membership fee goes up to $3 after June 1; (3) VOICE'S first quarterly report will be published in June. Help stamp out Nielsens and writer's cramp - join VOICE! [5]

Fan Comments


Hailing frequencies open —

NBC was the Doomsday Machine, Star Trek was Friday's Child
The writing's on the TV screen, the schedules have been filed.
The Ultimate Computer, Nielsen, helped bring this fate —
The Private Little War is lost, it's Operation: Annihilate [6]


Despite abysmal Nielsen ratings, the critically acclaimed series, [ Hill Street Blues ], continues to do battle with the tuna-brains of media-land. HSB's got class, guts, powerful scripts, masterful performances, and NBC promoting it, which all adds up, I'm afraid, to the proverbial kiss of death. The network has been dallying with this show for months in an apparent effort to figure out what to do with a show that just don't float at the same level as the rest of its byproducts.. .uh.. .productions. But perhaps with a new Tuesday time slot, and the promise from NBC Entertainment president, Brandon Tartikoff, that the network will hang or to HSB with the altruistic thought that the ratings may yet improve, there is yet HOPE. Before I climb off my soapbox, I'd like to ask those folks who enjoy the show to let good old Brandon know that you do — and that if you had one of those dumb little Nielsen boxes stuck to your set, you'd watch HSB no matter where those clever lads in programming stuck it. Write (polite letters, folks—typed if possible). [7]


I prefer to look at the world through alien goo-colored glasses and believe that we, as [ War of the Worlds ] fans, did have an impact, maybe not us personally, but those who are a part of the Nielsen's. [8]

Early 2000s

(Note: God's television weighs heavily in the Nielsens, as God is more important than the average viewer.) [9]


... With the invention of DVR, online streaming, globalization of viewership, and social media paired with how unreliable Nielsen's tracking actually is the networks have been forced to measure a show's success in other ways. Yes, they will still look at overnight numbers but more often than not (specially for smaller networks who are primarily focused on the 18-24 demographic like ABC Family and The CW) social media presence is almost as important. You might get a show like The 100 that consistently gets a 0.5-0.6 in US ratings but trends on Twitter every week for hours with fans from around the world pitching in to the conversation and that matters to the network. If that same show is then watched two days later on DVR that matters. If people go on their website, or Hulu, and Netflix and streamings hundreds of thousands more times then that makes a massive difference. If the show constantly trends on Tumblr's fandometrics that shows they have an engaged fanbase. None of this was possible five or ten years ago and that's why shows like The 100 are still on the air. Because even though their Nielsen numbers may be dismal even for a small network, the people making decisions know their success goes beyond that because of fan engagement. [See more on this topic at LGBT Fans Deserve Better.][10]


  1. ^ from Plak-Tow #7 (May 1968)
  2. ^ from Plak-Tow #10 (October 28, 1968)
  3. ^ from Plak-Tow #10 (October 28, 1968)
  4. ^ from Plak-Tow #3 (January 29, 1968)
  5. ^ from Plak-Tow #5
  6. ^ from Plak-Tow #13 (March 17, 1969)
  7. ^ from Paula Block's editorial in Syndizine #2 (May 1981)
  8. ^ from The Blackwood Project #7 (May 1990)
  9. ^ from the satirical Buffy the Vampire Slayer essay God Personally Offended
  10. ^ Comment #61665 by Guest on The L Chat thread "The 100 - Part VI; Maybe someday is now" (page 2056). March 10, 2016. Archived version.