The Future of the Ratings Panel

Jennifer Hessler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A defining feature of the Nielsen ratings has always been that they derive from a statistically sampled panel of real viewers. In his 1966 promotional speech titled “If Not the People…Who?” A.C. Nielsen Jr. described audience measurement as akin to a democratic election, the ratings constituting “the voice of the people” and a “mirror of public taste.”[1] Eileen Meehan argues that in its early days Nielsen strategically employed this rhetoric to characterize the ratings as quintessentially American and good for free market economic prosperity, while also absolving itself of any responsibility for the ratings’ negative affect on program quality.[2] Even though media scholars have debunked the idea that television ratings are an accurate reflection of public taste,[3] the ratings’ reliance on a viewer panel has still shaped their epistemological value: one the one hand, making them (somewhat problematically) dependent on panelists’ cooperation, and on the other hand, accruing them the credential of direct “audience intelligence.”
Original languageEnglish
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


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