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Nielson Ratings: Finding Nielsen Ratings

A.C. Nielsen

Who was the man behind the ratings? Arthur Charles (A.C.) Nielsen developed his famous market researching system, the Nielsen Ratings, for radio and television in the early 1940s, but he also did a lot more. Learn more about A.C. Nielsen:

Cheat Sheet

Rank = Number based on U.S. household rating percentage from Nielsen Media's National People Meter Sample.

Rating = Estimate of the size of a television audience relative to the total universe, expressed as a percentage. For the 2007-08 season, Nielsen Media Research determined there were an estimated 112,800,000 television households in the U.S. This means that a single national household ratings point represents 1%, or 1,128,000 households.

Viewers = Includes all persons over the age of two, unless stated otherwise.


For more information and explanation of the numbers, see Futon Critic's FAQ.

What are Nielsen Ratings?

Nielsen ratings measure the popularity of American television programs. Developed by Nielsen Media Research, the ratings are not qualitative evaluations of how much a program is "liked," but, instead, how many many people watched.

In essence, Nielsen ratings help determine the audience size and composition of television programming.

To learn more about how Nielsen collects the data to make the numbers come to life, see Television Measurement.

Recent Ratings

Many Internet resources provide prime-time ratings information for the previous or current week, but they often provide different amounts of information -- some include broadcast programs, others cable programs and/or networks, etc. Be sure to check across multiple sources.  For most recent ratings, you will probably find the numbers in a news story about the show.

Older Ratings

Many periodicals also provide prime-time ratings information in their weekly publications. Searching older issues can give you a historical perspective, letting you trace television programs across time. Use the libraries' databases to search for older Nielsen ratings.

Available from
Business Source Complete  (1993-2014)


Available from
Corporate ResourceNet  (1993-2013)