While college students love television as much as anyone else, their viewing habits have been acknowledged only at their parents' houses during school vacations, excluding any TV watched away from home.
This led industry executives to complain that TV shows attracting the 18- to 24-year-old audience have always been undervalued. Effective January 29, Nielsen Media Research, a branch of The Nielsen Co., will count college students toward the National People Meter audience estimates. The new system will allow for the viewing by students in their dorm rooms or off-campus housing to be considered as if it were an additional TV set within their families' homes.
"Nielsen is committed to continuously improving... its television ratings," says Sara Erichson, GM of national services, in a statement. "This 'extended home' measurement is the first in a series of steps we're taking to include non-traditional platforms."
Why does it matter?
"It will give greater accuracy to the numbers for that particular demo," says Gary Holmes, Nielsen chief press officer. "Agencies... will have a greater idea of what 18- to 25-year-olds are watching. There are some programs, not surprisingly, already geared toward that audience [that will] see higher ratings."
College students, as emerging consumers, are a good target for marketers. The new data should help PR pros, who cater to that audience by using celebrity spokespeople from popular shows, as well as product placement, to better reach the demographic.
But Matt Britton, chief of brand development for marketing firm Mr. Youth, cautions against equating viewership with rapt attention. "College students are not the captive audience that household viewers are," he says. "It's called discretionary dorm room time. They're online, and the TV is on at the same time."
1. A pilot program that included college viewership revealed that, among women ages 18 to 24, the program with the largest rate increase was Grey's Anatomy, which went up by 4.6 ratings, equivalent to 53% of its total viewing.
2. A Nielsen outreach survey indicated that approximately two-thirds of all students in college owned television sets in their dorm rooms or off-campus housing.
3. The most watched network for college women was The CW, with 46,000 viewers per day, and for college men, it was Fox, with 33,000 viewers.
4. Primetime, usually from 8pm to 11pm, is when more than 75% of college students watch TV. The next most popular time frame is from 11pm to 1am, notes Mr. Youth's Britton.
5. College students typically spend around 16 hours on the Internet per week and watch approximately 15 hours of TV per week.