Protest Donald Trump’s Inauguration By Changing the Channel-Mostly Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
A viral call to action on social media urges people to protest Donald Trump’s inauguration, but tuning into a different channel to ruin its TV ratings.
Changing the channel on Donald Trump’s inauguration wouldn’t directly impact the event’s ratings — unless the thousands of “Nielsen households” used to determine ratings follow suit.
It’s not clear where calls for Trump protesters to change the channel on his inauguration and destroy his ratings came from, but was in wide circulation on Facebook in the days leading up to the event. The theory goes that Trump, who has been very concerned about his television ratings throughout the campaign, would be distraught if his inauguration tanked:
One of the best produced, including the incredible stage & set, in the history of conventions. Great unity! Big T.V. ratings! @KarlRove
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2016
The problem with calls to protest Trump’s inauguration by changing the channel is that Nielsen monitors the view habits of a very small percentage “Nielsen households” and uses that data to determine viewing trends of households nationwide — and, ultimately, ratings. Steve Krakauer explains in a 2015 Medium column on how TV ratings work:
Nielsen calculates ratings in two ways — “diaries” and “people meters.” Most are now people meters, which automatically calculate what and when certain households watch. There’s no publicly-released information about how many Nielsen households exist. Back in 2008 when I worked for TVNewser, I was told there were 14,000 Nielsen households at any given time, and of that group, approximately 3,500 are DVR-capable. I’ve heard rumblings that the number has increased by double or triple. So at the highest estimate, let’s say it’s 50,000 households now (with a larger percentage of DVR-capable).
The households are evenly distributed by population throughout the United States, and are roughly meant to be representative of the population as a whole. They also rotate occasionally. But let’s get back to that number. Maybe 50,000 households seems like a lot to you, but to put it in perspective, there are approximately 100 million households with a TV in the United States. That means even at the high estimate of 50,000 households, the number represents .05% of the households. That would be less than 1/10 of 1%.
Basically, that means that changing the channel on Trump’s inauguration won’t impact its TV ratings — unless the 0.05% of households that are Nielsen families follow suit. That’s why we’re calling this one “mostly fiction.”