How Does the Ratings Process Work?

We’ve all been hearing about the TV ratings for as long as we’ve been watching TV – but those numbers don’t just materialise out of thin air! Behind the daily ratings reports is a well-oiled machine that’s overseen by an organisation named OzTAM, which works in collaboration with global ratings powerhouse Nielsen to collect, collate and deliver ratings data.

The ratings, of course, aren’t just guesswork – they’re gathered from real people like you or I, and though few will ever be chosen to participate in the TV ratings process, those that do can have a huge influence on what goes to air, what stays on air, and what ads are seen where.

Back in the old days, TV (and radio) ratings were collected using a very unreliable system – a diary. Those selected would be sent a thick book to record all their TV viewing in – and the viewing of the rest of the household. Can you imagine having to fill out paperwork every time you watched TV? That’s what it was like, and needless to say, the system was potentially inaccurate if participants forgot to fill out their diary regularly.

OzTAM and the Ratings Process

These days, technology has come to the rescue with a highly sophisticated digital metering system, called UniTAM (and known by some generically as a “people meter”). This clever device can accurately capture all viewing on all TVs in the household, automatically. All the residents of the house (and their guests) need to do is “check in” with a remote control when they start watching, and the meter records and stores their viewing data.

The information stored includes the full range of info – exactly who was watching, the time and date of viewing and how long shows were viewed for, whether TVs are switched on or off and even the audio signal from the TV speaker. All of this data is sent back to base every night and the computers get to work.

The audio signal might seem like a strange thing to record, but it’s got a practical purpose – OzTAM’s software can identify shows based on their audio, which lets the meter record viewing of shows via time-shift methods like a digital video recorder. This allows the TV ratings numbers to reflect viewing of shows up to four weeks after they originally aired, providing a much more accurate overview of the total number of people that watched a show. That way, if someone in the household records Home and Away every day then binges all five episodes on the weekend, that viewing will still be reflected in the longer-term ratings.

The data received from UniTAM boxes is compiled into an initial list of ratings released the next morning – the Overnight ratings. But they only tell part of the story; later that day, Confirmed numbers are released after TV networks verify actual broadcast times, then those are followed by 7-day and 28-day numbers.

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