AT&T's deal with Nielsen promises more accurate TV ratings

DirecTV and U-Verse will provide clearer data on what you're really watching.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

For years, TV ratings data has revolved around a small number of households using specialized gear to track their viewing habits. That's not completely representative of what the broader public is watching, is it? However, the accuracy is about to jump by leaps and bounds. Mere months after a deal with Dish, Nielsen has forged a multi-year agreement with AT&T to use set-top box data (thankfully, anonymized) to help determine ratings. Info from DirecTV and U-Verse subscribers will supply Nielsen with large-scale viewing patterns on top of its existing samples, providing a clearer picture of the American TV landscape.

The data will be more accurate, of course, but it should also help the TV business understand channels and regions that normally don't get much attention. A small group of panelists can only watch so much programming, and can't possibly tell you what a specific market (at least, outside of major cities) is watching. Set-top info from millions of users changes all that -- it'll be more apparent if a specialty channel is blowing up, or if a show appeals to a certain slice of the country. You could see TV providers shake up their show offerings to reflect what people actually want, rather than making a stab in the dark based on limited knowledge.