Before analytics there were other methods for gauging viewers’ interest in TV shows, the most common being ratings. But the frontrunner was “Flush Ratings,” which was followed by qualitative methods, otherwise known as “Appreciation Indices.”
Let’s be real: Before trash-TV there was toilet-water TV, but it was essentially used to measure viewers’ preferences when it came to television shows. Indeed, many years ago, TV ratings, as well as a given show’s appreciation indices, were measured by the level of a city’s water pressure at any given moment, since it lowered drastically when commercials aired during popular shows. Aptly titled “Flush Ratings,” this measurement was used in several countries throughout the world during the early days of commercial television.
For example, in 1965 in the town of Barrie, Ontario, during the airing of Bonanza on CBC, it was calculated that the “post-program flush rating” (or PPFR) was 87 gallons (330 liters). Another way to measure TV ratings was to monitor pounds per square inch (or PSI) of water pressure. When the movie Airport was first broadcast in the U.S. in 1974, it reached 22 PSIs.
Also in 1974, the waterworks in Lafayette, a city in Louisiana, revealed an apparent correlation between drops in water pressure and television viewing habits. Specifically, the water pressure would drop immediately after popular shows and movies had aired, presumably from viewers waiting until the credits rolled to relieve themselves.
When the water pressure dropped significantly during a particular evening of the week when a certain show was broadcast, analysts were able to figure out which show was the “culprit.” Naturally, the number of shows on the air were few, making it easy to suss out which show was the cause of all of these plumbing shenanigans.
A similar occurrence was recorded in New York City during the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983. Although the level of pressure drop wasn’t recorded, it was noted that the pressure dropped precipitously during the commercial breaks of the show, causing a pronounced surge in the two huge tunnels that bring water into New York from the Catskills.
In 1992, Russia experienced the same water-level drop in Moscow during broadcasts of the Mexican telenovela The Rich Also Weep, which became very popular there.
Over the years, the gathering of TV ratings improved considerably and TV stations no longer had to rely on toilets to gauge the number of eyes on a given show. Literally overnight, rating services were able to reveal audience shares, and the demographics and psychographics of TV viewers, as well as the number of people watching. However, they stopped measuring the level of appreciation.
When analog television was replaced by digital, advertisers became more analytical, demanding to know why viewers loved certain shows and how much they loved them. These requirements meant that surveyors had to go back to qualitative methods of research in order to find the appreciation indices.
And so analog TV ratings became analytical, which is where we are today. In order to gather this kind of information, specialized companies mine data from social media.
So today’s digital TV has caused analytical audience researchers to return to analog-era appreciation indices. Indeed, television never ceases to amaze and amuse us!
(By Dom Serafini)
Audio Version (a DV Works service)