While hardly the stuff of butterfly ballots and hanging chads, a quirk in Nielsen Media Research's measuring system has apparently been inflating audience estimates for such hit Home Box Office programs as "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City."
A spokesman for the research firm confirmed that reported ratings for HBO shows combine all viewing of the pay service's various channels at that particular time, as opposed to being show-specific. As a result, audience estimates for "Sex and the City" on Sunday at 9 p.m., for example, would also include people watching something else on HBO Plus, HBO Signature and HBO Family at the same time.
"We do aggregate it," said Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus. "All the viewing minutes to those different [channels] goes into that rating."
It's a good bet, of course, that the vast majority of viewers are watching "Sopranos" or "Sex" on the flagship network (HBO has actually run the former on two channels simultaneously, offering conventional and letterbox versions), but because of the manner in which Nielsen measures HBO, at this point there's no clear way to tell.