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Ratings vs. what we actually watch


The PBS series "Nova" raises an interesting question tonight (8 o'clock, Maryland Public Television) in an episode titled "Can You Believe TV Ratings?"

The show finds some problems with the methodology that produces audience estimates by which the networks and sponsors make many important decisions about what is on the air.

But here's a more interesting question from the standpoint of viewers, and Media Monitor is interested in hearing from readers on the subject: How much should ratings matter?

As TV choices expand, via growing cable systems and sophisticated VCR use, conducting the programming business as a horse race -- as in what network "wins" the ratings for a night, or the season -- seems less relevant. Viewers are simply watching what they want, when they want to watch it.

So here are some subsidiary questions to consider:

* Do you pay any attention to the ratings of shows you like?

* Do you watch shows merely because they are highly rated?

* Are you convinced a favorite show that was canceled for low ratings actually had a good-sized audience?

* Are you irritated when two or three good shows air opposite one another as part of the ratings war?

* And should networks and sponsors be more interested in backing quality programming than popular programming? If so, how can viewers play a role in achieving that end?

Send along your brief observations, and a future column will explore the most interesting responses. Write: Steve McKerrow/Media Monitor, The Evening Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278, or fax your response to: (410) 783-2519.

As a positive example of the last study question above, a Wisconsin-based organization called Viewers Voice Inc. is circulating a list of sponsors of the CBS series "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," starring Sharon Gless, asking viewers to write advertisers, thanking them for their support.

The show, ranked in 76th place in the season-to-date Nielsen ratings, is on "hiatus" until next month.

"The current rating system doesn't tell the whole story. There has to be additional input, so the networks can know just what viewers want," writes organization president Sharon Rhode in the group's latest newsletter.(For information, write: Viewers Voice Inc., P.O. Box 27758, West Allis, Wis. 53227-0758.)

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