Moving to assuage critics who say the TV ratings don't reflect the watching people do outside their homes, Nielsen Media Research said Monday it will start measuring the viewing habits of college students next year. It's the first time that the ratings firm will include any out-of-home viewing in its national sample.
But the company was careful not to suggest that it had opened the door to measuring TV viewing in bars, airports, hospitals and other public places, as some TV providers have long sought.
What the company will be measuring, Nielsen spokeswoman Laura James said, is "extended home viewing." In other words, the college students whose habits will be tracked will already be members of a Nielsen family -- that is, from a household where meters are installed to track which family members are watching what shows. If the students are at home, their viewing is measured there; when they are living at college, meters will be installed to track what they watch in their dorm room or apartment, just as if they were home but had a separate TV set in their bedroom.
"They are household members; we're just following them to another residence," James said.
Nielsen said the plan, to take effect in time for the important February ratings sweeps, would include not only students at colleges and universities but also those at "trade schools, culinary institutes and other higher educational facilities."