Since Thursday, people have been tweeting and e-mailing me asking the same question... what happened? Why are ratings so low!? OMG OMG OMG!?!?!?
Yes, well, people are very passionate. And confused!
I believed I had the beginnings of an actual answer that wasn't "well, on Thursday, there was an abnormally highly rated NBA game on TNT during prime time" or "the Justin Bieber movie came out so all teen girls have ceased to exist outside of the cineplex."
Here's what happened: starting Monday, January 31st, Nielsen changed their methodology. I know, right? It seemed suspicious, but I didn't have a handle on exactly what the change was.
Of course, the more I looked into it, I found it only affects overall HUT/PUT levels (and therefore share - a metric I continue to believe even with these changes it entirely and utterly useless), and not actual program ratings.
Here's what the change is...
Before: Nielsen credited DVR viewing as a HUT/PUT (household or person using television) when something was RECORDED, and no matter when you played it or how many times, your viewing was credited once and only once, and credited to the time period of the recording.
For instance, if you recorded Modern Family on Wednesday at 9pm, even if you played it on Sunday at 3pm - and because it was so funny, again at 5pm - you would be credited as a single PUT on Wednesday at 9pm.
Now: Nielsen is crediting DVR viewing as a HUT/PUT when playback happens, and every time playback happens.
Back to the Modern Family example... your Wednesday 9pm recording watched on Sunday at 3pm then again at 5pm? You will be credited to the overall number of persons using television on Sunday at 3pm and at 5pm. MAKES SENSE, DOESN'T IT?
Here's the catch, and here's why it doesn't actually explain the low ratings of the last week or so: program data remains the same. Recorded programs have always been credited with viewing regardless of when it happens. As above, it only impacts the overall HUT and PUT levels.
All of which is a roundabout saying "darn, I thought I had something when in fact I don't" to explain why ratings have been lower in the last week. This is why scientists test hypotheses.
So, the speculation continues.