Auditing the System

Wired is reporting that the Nielsen ‘People Meters’ Draw Fire from minority groups because the meters show people watching “minority” shows much less than was reported using the diaries. From an auditing mindset, this is simple to explain — people weren’t accurately reporting what they were watching before, as Ryan Gabbard already surmised.

This is fairly silly though: the People Meter (unlike the diaries) is infallible concerning what is actually being shown on the TV. The only way I can imagine its figures being inaccurate is if for some reason minorities are less likely to push the buttons correctly than non-minorities, which seems to me very unlikely. The interesting question is not why the People Meter readings are deflated for some shows with predominantly minority casts, but why the diary readings were inflated for these shows.

This isn’t new, in any aspect. People have a tendency to inflate things when dealing with minority groups, and people who point this out get attacked, like Rush Limbaugh talking about McNabb. Television networks tend to attack Nielson when Nielson makes them look like idiots and claim something is wrong with the system, rather than admitting that their programming is crap.

Are shows like The Parkers crap? I think so, but I think that most broadcast sitcoms nowadays are crap, so my opinion isn’t especially useful. I can’t even tolerate Raymond, and that show is supposed to be great, according to the ratings. It isn’t that I don’t like shows with black casts — Bernie Mac and Chappelle’s Show are hilarious. Of course, I didn’t see Bernie Mac mentioned in the story as having a big drop, either.

I don’t think the people filling out the diaries are bad people. I don’t even think that they were lying; I think they just put down their intentions, and didn’t really think about what they were really watching. What I do have a problem with is people who assume that the machine is broken because the machine measured the world, and the world didn’t turn out to be the way they thought it should be.

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