Qualitative Versus Quantitative Ratings
A frequently expressed criticism of broadcast ratings is that they are quantitative and not qualitative. Ratings are limited to reporting binary (yes/no) set user actions: (1) electing to turn on a receiver and (2) choosing (or not choosing) any one of many programs available by a flick of the tuning dial (or the push of a button). Such crude data may suffice for the advertiser's commercial purposes, but it is hardly the basis on which intelligent decisions about programming can be made, according to the detractors of ratings. This complaint is most often heard when network programs are canceled despite the existence of a highly articulate group of fans as with "Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek." Some in public TV likewise maintain that commercial rating measurement is not sufficient for its needs, that audience size alone is an inadequate evaluation of whether public television is reaching its more exacting programming objectives.
There are several complexities to the concept of qualitative ratings that are not found in conventional audience size measurements. Quantitative measurement is relatively simple and clear: The numbers--whether household or demographic ratings or share of audience projections, national or local--are developed by syndicated services using standardized and readily understood terms. When told that "Hill Street Blues" on Thursday at 10:00 P.M. last week achieved a share of 29.5 nationally, 22.6 in Philadelphia, and 31.8 in San Francisco, the meaning is clear (and even more so when trends of all available weekly shares are followed).
Moreover, broadcast quantitative measurements report (as accurately as the technique permits) the actual viewing behavior of the household or person in