FAMILY GUY: After the Griffins are selected to be a Nielsen family, Peter takes his enthusiasm too far when he steals multiple Nielsen boxes and tries to control the airwaves in the all-new "All in the Nielsen Family" episode of FAMILY GUY airing Sunday, Oct. 7 (9:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. FAMILY GUY ™ and © 2012 TCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
A rare shot of how television rating data is gathered

Summer being a season of upside down schedules, it had been a while since I last spoke with CHML’s Scott Thompson. We got back together on the radio this week to talk about the big TV audience last Saturday night for The Tragically Hip.

Which gave me an opportunity to take issue with the CBC’s ratings release from Sunday. That 11.7 million number CBC put out there is a bigger fib than Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

The 11.7M number refers to reach. Here’s how Wikipedia defines reach in terms of television ratings:

…reach refers to the total number of different people or households exposed, at least once, to a medium during a given period. Reach should not be confused with the number of people who will actually be exposed to and consume the advertising.

Reach, in other words, means nothing to advertisers. It shouldn’t mean anything to consumers, either, because it is not a reflectiuon of the true number of people who actually watched any given TV show.

That true number for the Tragically Hip concert, at least as measured as an overnight estimate, is 4,039,000. That number could grow to 4.3M or 4.5M by the time the total, Live+7 data is collected.


That’s a huge number for CBC or any Canadian broadcaster on a Saturday night in summer. It is in no way, however, a record-breaker. It is roughly the same number The Big Bang Theory drew every week in Canada up until the past year or so.

I’m not trying to downplay the achievement, it’s impressive and deserves to be celebrated. But reach is misleading. Reach is what networks reach for when the real number is below expectations.

Reporting reach in the headline of a release also buggers up the playing field if everybody else sticks to the average minute audience rating. It’s like saying the Leafs won last night 34 shots to 30.

Tempted as they might, Global is not going to start issuing releases stating NCIS had a reach of 7.4 million viewers last night. It could be true, but advertisers would say, “This is bullshit. Only 2.1M saw our ad.”

CBC was at it again Tuesday with its post-Olympic ratings release. Among the statements was this beauty:

From the Opening Ceremony on August 5 to the Closing Ceremony on August 21, CBC/Radio-Canada’s coverage of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games reached 32.1 million Canadians – more viewers than have watched any previous Summer Games in Canada.

That’s true because a) over 16 days, even a dog or cat stepping on the remote is going to trip over you channel at least once and b) there are more people in Canada in 2016 than there were in 2012.

The data that matter is that CBC’s average full day audience (1.271M; main network only) increased by 11% over the Games in London four years ago and the primetime audience (1.879M) was up 23%.

CBC’s numbers spiked for several of the main events. Usain Bolt winning the gold and Andre De Grasse the silver in the men’s 200m was the biggest draw with 7.2 million viewers.

NBC says their coverage of the 2016 Rio Olympics drew an average of 27.5M viewers over 15 days of competition. They rank that second only to London four years ago, which averaged 30.3M viewers. Rio was the first games where NBC offered live streaming of many events and that might account for one interesting statistic: fewer younger viewers watched these Games on television, at least in the U.S.

CHML_AM_Logo.svgScott asks about many other things, including sexism during the Olympic coverage. You can listen in to the entire 20 minutes here.

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