The Ravens on television: Are they a hit or not?

MEDIA WATCH

July 21, 2000|By Milton Kent

An e-mail question from a reader provides an opportunity to clear up one of the great mysteries of this column: What goes into the collection of ratings.

The reader writes: "Much has been written about the Ravens having one of the lowest ratings in the NFL. I find this hard to believe since we had one of the highest prior to the Colts leaving. I would like to see some analysis on how the ratings are obtained and what areas are used to solicit the ratings.

"In other words, are they surveying all of Anne Arundel and Howard counties to solicit data as to whether they are watching the Ravens? If so, the numbers are skewed since below Annapolis and Columbia is clearly Redskins territory. Are they including southern Pennsylvania in these numbers?"

Embodied in the question is the notion that Baltimore is as strong a football-watching town as it was when the Colts moved in 1984, and while that may seem logical on its face, there's really no way to support or refute the argument because the landscape is so different now.

Take television, for instance. There are more people in the area than there were 16 years ago, but ratings data from 1984 aren't kept by local stations, so it's hard to know in what ways local viewership of football has changed.

But we do know viewers today have dramatically more choices than they did during the time the Colts were here, because of the onset of cable and direct broadcast satellite television.

So while it's likely that more people might be watching football in raw numbers, the percentage of viewership relative to the rest of what else is on, or the ratings, may not be higher.

But how do they even know how many people are watching games? To answer that, a basic primer is in order.

Ratings are measured by Nielsen in two ways. One is via diaries, which are sent out to more than 4,000 of the 999, 200 households in the area during six months of the year (January, February, May, July, October and November). Diary holders usually return about a fourth of the books.

Diary holders are asked to keep specific information, which stations and advertisers use for demographic study, about how and when each individual within that household watches television.

Nielsen's other measurement method is through devices called set meters that collect information on whether a television is on or off, which channel it's tuned to and time of viewing. The data is fed directly to a main computer. That method is the basis for measuring daily viewing in 48 of the largest markets in the country, including Baltimore.

Presently, 404 homes in the Baltimore area are equipped with set meters, though anywhere from 25 to 50 meters might be unresponsive from day to day. Those homes are spread throughout Baltimore City and the 11 counties that are included in the market, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, as well as Cecil County and all of the Eastern Shore except for Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties, which belong to the Salisbury market.

Though no one outside of Nielsen knows specifically where those meters are, they are placed throughout the area and their data are weighted to mirror the general population.

So, while there are certainly meters in Anne Arundel and Howard counties, where there are higher concentrations of people who are oriented toward Washington, D.C., the statistical sample of homes should accurately reflect total viewing across the board.

The package of Ravens regular-season games last year averaged a 13.6 rating and 30 share of the audience. That works out to 135,891 households watching the Ravens, with nearly a third of the televisions that are on tuned to the game. That is roughly equal to the 13.8/29 the team averaged in 1998, which was third from the bottom of the league. Averages for each NFL team were not available for 1999.

Apparently, the management of Channel 24 must believe that the area's football-viewing habits have changed, as that station will be airing a package of Redskins preseason games and next Friday's scrimmage with the Ravens. Time will tell if they're right.

Around the dial

It's one of the biggest golf weekends of the year, as both the men and the women contest major championships.

British Open coverage continues today on ESPN, with a live telecast at 8 a.m. from St. Andrews in Scotland, followed at 2 p.m. by live coverage of the U.S. Women's Open from Libertyville, Ill.

ABC (Channel 2) will take over British Open coverage for the weekend with Jim McKay as co-anchor. Tomorrow's telecast commences at 10 a.m., and Sunday's show tees off at 9 a.m., with a taped recap at 5 p.m.

NBC's U.S. Women's Open coverage airs tomorrow and Sunday at 3 p.m. each day on Channel 11. NBC also concludes its coverage of the U.S. Olympic track and field team trials tomorrow at 1 p.m. and in prime time Sunday at 7.

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