Real Media Riffs - Wednesday, Jan 31, 2007

NIELSEN 101 -- In the days since Nielsen Media Research began measuring TV viewing of students living on college campuses, some surprising patterns have emerged. Cautioning that the data is preliminary and may not be "projectable," a source deep inside the TV ratings giant tells The Riff that contrary to conventional beliefs that the 18- to 24-year-old crowd are light users of the medium, the college students in Nielsen's new "extended home sample" are watching disproportionate amounts of television. "It's averaging close to 18 hours a day -- well above the national average and higher than any demographic break we've ever observed," said the executive, adding that this is "more time per day than they spend doing all their other daily life activities combined, excluding sleep." Even more remarkable is what this group is watching. Incredibly, the Hallmark Channel is the top-rated network among college students. No. 2 is Oxygen.

Agency research executives poring through the new data over the past few days are at a loss, but one top member of the Four As' Media Research Committee has said the group is thinking of asking industry watchdog the Media Rating Council to look into the college methodology. "Hey, the MRC accredits ratings services. Colleges are accredited. Coincidence? I think not," she suggested.



Perhaps most remarkable of all are the differing patterns of TV usage Nielsen has begun observing among students living on various college campuses. At campuses located in Southern coastal communities, TV usage tends to ebb early in the morning and spikes early in the evening. "It's almost as if it is being influenced by tidal patterns,' said the Nielsen insider. "Some of our field workers think it might have to do with surfing. Um, not channel surfing. Actual surfing."

Nielsen insiders have even coined a new term to describe the higher-than-expected TV usage levels taking place on college campuses. They're calling it "CUT," or the verb "cutting." CUT apparently is an acronym that stands for Colleges Using Television.

"The CUT levels are much higher than anything we can recall for PUTs or HUTs," the executive explained, referring to Nielsen terms for persons using television and households using television.

The most extreme example of cutting, according to the preliminary data, is taking place at certain Southern California and Northeastern campuses, especially NYU, making Nielsen executives wonder if it could actually be another kind of TV ratings phenomenon known as "tuning without viewing."

"We just don't get it," he said. "It's unlike anything we've ever seen before. We know these kids are in the room with the TV set on. And from what we've observed they're even looking at the screen, but they all seem to be, well, zoning out. That's the only way to describe it. Clearly, we have a lot more to learn about the relationship between television viewing in places of higher learning."

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