The Osbournes Gives New Meaning to Reality TV

In recent years reality shows have become some of the most popular programs on television. Shows such as Survivor, Fear Factor, The Bachelor, Temptation Island, and American Idol: The Search for a Superstar have been among the most popular of the reality genre and have spawned a slew of copycats. However, many of these shows might never have come about had not the path been blazed nearly a decade earlier by MTV's reallife soap opera The Real World, which has been running for 11 years and remains a staple of the music channel's lineup. The series single-handedly created the 24/7,"soap-u-mentary" style of most contemporary reality series.

A decade later MTV has created yet another hit reality show, The Osbournes, which is a no-holds-barred look at the real life of aging British rock star Ozzy Osbourne and his family as they go about their daily routine. They show has been described as a bizarre, unscripted, profanity-laced family comedy that gives new meaning to "reality TV." Osbourne plays himself— a tattoo-covered hellion-turned-slipper-wearing dad with world-weary teenagers and a wife who is also his manager. The show is set in Osbourne's Beverly Hills mansion, which is furnished in a style that might be termed "kinky robber baron": plush couches, antique carpets, crucifixes galore, totems of the occult, and a menagerie of rebellious house pets.

The Osbournes premiered in spring 2002 and, after only 10 episodes, became a bona fide pop cultural sensation, as well as MTV's top-rated series ever and one of the most watched entertainment shows on cable. Nearly 8 million people have been tuning in to the show when it airs, and they aren't just MTV's core audience of 12- to 24-year-olds. The Osbournes appeals to a broader demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds and beyond and spans generations in many households, as teens often find themselves laughing at the family's antics with their baby-boomer parents. Television critics attribute the show's success to the quirky, unscripted approach of the show and the characters, who include Ozzy, his wife Sharon, his kids Jack and Kelly, Melinda the nanny, the band, the pets, the assistants, the roadies, and the security guards. MTV president Van Toffler notes: "I'm not sure we could ever find a family as unique,as unpredictable and as twisted as the Osbournes are."

The success of the show has made Ozzy Osbourne very popular. He has been invited to play for Queen Elizabeth II, he has received a six-figure book contract, and his concert tours have been sold out wherever the band plays. The Viacom network has also benefited from the success of the show, as its ratings success has made it a smash hit for MTV's advertising department. Media executives report that some 30-second commercials in the show have gone for close to $100,000, which is a record for a regular nonsports cable series. MTV can show each episode worldwide up to 100 times, and it can raise advertising rates as the show's popularity increases.

As might be expected,the success of The Osbournes has resulted in other networks' trying to one-up one another with oddball reality shows. E! Entertainment Television launched a similar reality show in August 2002 featuring buxom model/actress Anna Nicole Smith, while MTV began exploring projects that would provide behind-the-scenes looks at other entertainers and celebrities, such as rapper "P. Diddy" Combs. VH1 turned its cameras on singer Liza Minnelli and her husband, David Getz,in Liza and David.

Some television critics feel that it is only a matter of time until viewers become tired of reality shows. However, MTV executives must not agree with this prediction, as the network has signed The Osbournes to a two-year deal. MTV is also coming up with ways to keep the show popular, such as shooting some episodes in England. One writer notes that the attraction of The Osbournes is simple: famous people doing ordinary things. It will be interesting to see how long people want to watch Ozzy continue to do simple things such as curse and yell "Sharon."

Sources: Megan Larson,"Strange Brew," Mediaweek, Sept. 16,2002, pp.26-27; David Calvo and Geoff Boucher,"Surreality TV Triumphs: 'Osbournes' Is Renewed," Los Angeles Times, May 30,2002, pp. Al, 23; Wayne Friedman,"'Osbournes' Hits Peak Cable Program Pricing," Advertising Age, May 13,2002, pp.1,75.

Audience size and composition are also important to the network or station, since they determine the amount it can charge for commercial time. Shows are frequently canceled because they fail to attract enough viewers to make their commercial time attractive to potential advertisers. Determining audience size is not an exact science and has been the subject of considerable controversy through the years. In this section, we examine how audiences are measured and how advertisers use this information in planning their media schedules.

Aud ience Measures The size and composition of television audiences are measured by ratings services. The sole source of network TV and local audience information is the A. C. Nielsen Co. For many years local audience information was also available from the Arbitron Co., but Arbitron exited the local TV ratings business at the end of 1993 due to steep financial losses.29 Nielsen gathers viewership information from a sample of TV homes and then projects this information to the total viewing area. The techniques used to gather audience measurement information include diaries, electronic meters or recorders, and personal interviews. Nielsen provides various types of information that can be used to measure and evaluate a station's audience. These measures are important to media planners as they weigh the value of buying commercial time on a program.

Television Households The number of households in the market that own a TV is sometimes referred to as the universe estimate (UE). Nielsen estimates that 106.7 million U.S. households owned at least one TV set as of August 2002. Since over 98 percent of U.S. households own a TV set, television households generally correspond to the number of households in a given market.30

Program Rating Probably the best known of all audience measurement figures is the program rating, the percentage of TV households in an area that are tuned to a specific program during a specific time period. The program rating is calculated by dividing the number of households tuned to a particular show by the total number of households in the area. For example, if 14 million households (HH) watched ER, the national rating would be 11.9, calculated as follows:

HH tuned to show 14,000,000

Total U.S. HH 106,700,000

A ratings point represents 1 percent of all the television households in a particular area tuned to a specific program. On a national level, 1 ratings point represents 1,067,000 households. Thus, if a top-rated program like ER averages a rating of 12, it would reach 12.8 million households each week (12 X 1,067,000).

The program rating is the key number to the stations, since the amount of money they can charge for commercial time is based on it. Ratings points are very important to the networks as well as to individual stations. A1 percent change in a program's ratings over the course of a viewing season can gain or lose millions of dollars in advertising revenue. Advertisers also follow ratings closely, since they are the key measure for audience size and commercial rates.

Households Using Television The percentage of homes in a given area where TV is being watched during a specific time period is called households using television (HUT). This figure, sometimes referred to as sets in use, is always expressed as a percentage. For example, if 70 million of the U.S. TV households have their sets turned on at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, the HUT figure is 65.6 percent (70 million out of 106.7 million). Television usage varies widely depending on the time of day and season of the year.

Share of Audience Another important audience measurement figure is the share of audience, which is the percentage of households using TV in a specified time period that are tuned to a specific program. This figure considers variations in the number of sets in use and the total size of the potential audience, since it is based only on those households that have their sets turned on. Audience share is calculated by dividing the number of households (HH) tuned to a show by the number of households using television (HUT). Thus, if 70 million U.S. households had their sets turned on during the 10 p.m. time slot when ER is shown, the share of audience would be 20, calculated as follows:

Share =

HH tuned to show


U.S. households using TV 70,000,000

Audience share is always higher than the program rating unless all the households have their sets turned on (in which case they would be equal). Share figures are important since they reveal how well a program does with the available viewing audience. For example, late at night the size of the viewing audience drops substantially, so the best way to assess the popularity of a late-night program is to examine the share of the available audience it attracts relative to competing programs.

Ratings services also provide an audience statistic known as total audience, the total number of homes viewing any five-minute part of a telecast. This number can be broken down to provide audience composition figures that are based on the distribution of the audience into demographic categories.

Network Audience Information Nielsen Television Index The source of national and network TV audience information is the Nielsen Media Research, which provides daily and weekly estimates of TV viewing and national sponsored network and major cable program audiences. For more than 50 years, Nielsen provided this information using a two-pronged system consisting of a national sample of metered households along with a separate sample of diary households. In the metered households, an electronic measurement device known as the audimeter (audience meter) was hooked up to the TV set to continuously measure the channels to which the set was tuned. Network viewing for the country (the famous Nielsen ratings) was based on the results provided by audimeters placed in a national sample of homes carefully selected to represent the population of U.S. households. The metered households were supported by a separate panel of households that recorded viewing information in diaries. Since the audimeter could measure only the channel to which the set was tuned, the diary panel was used to gather demographic data on the viewing audience.

For many years, the television and advertising industries expressed concern over the audimeter/diary system. The information from diaries was not available to the network and advertising analysts for several weeks, and studies indicated the method was overstating the size of some key demographic audiences. Cooperation rates among diary keepers declined, and often the person who kept a household's diary did not note what other family members watched when he or she wasn't home. The complex new video environment and explosion in viewing options also made it difficult for diary keepers to maintain accurate viewing records.

As a result of these problems, and in response to competitive pressure from an audience measurement company from England, AGB, in 1987 Nielsen made the people meter the sole basis of its national rating system and eliminated the use of the diary panel.

The People Meter The people meter is an electronic measuring device that incorporates the technology of the old-style audimeter in a system that records not only what is being watched but also by whom in 6,000 households. The actual device is a small box with eight buttons—six for the family and two for visitors—that can be placed on the top of the TV set (Exhibit 11-8). A remote control unit permits electronic entries from anywhere in the room. Each member of the sample household is assigned a button that indicates his or her presence as a viewer. The device is also equipped with a sonar sensor to remind viewers entering or leaving the room to log in or out on the meter.

The viewership information the people meter collects from the household is stored in the home system until it is retrieved by Nielsen's computers. Data collected include when the set is turned on, which channel is viewed, when the channel is changed, and when the set is off, in addition to

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