College kids appear to be studying TV-cable TV in particular.
An average of about 1.2 million new viewers in the 18 to 24 age group showed up in Nielsen Media Research prime-time data last week, when the company began including college students watching at school in the ratings.
College viewers represented 13 percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds watching TV last week.
The additional viewers could provide a shot in the arm for television networks because young consumers are avidly sought by advertisers.
Amid the hoopla surrounding digital media, the new figures demonstrate that people in coveted demographics can still be reached with TV commercials.
“It’s nice to know that despite what people have proclaimed you can still reach young people through TV,” said Andy Donchin, director of broadcast at media buyer Carat. “After all you read about the digital revolution, I think TV is still doing the heavy lifting.”
The kids are counted as if they were watching at home, and Nielsen did not provide a specific breakout of student viewing. But a preliminary picture could be gleaned by comparing viewing in the 18 to 24 demo with the prior week. With the new numbers, there was a 13 percent increase in viewership.
On Monday 900,000 more 18-to24year-olds were watching TV, a 10 percent increase. The total number of people 18 to49 using television that night was 41.2 million. An additional 719,000 were watching cable while just 93,000 were added on the broadcast networks.
The pattern shifted Tuesday, probably because in the previous week the broadcasters aired the State of the Union address, which had little draw for the younger viewers. There were 1.3 million additional viewers in the demo. Broadcast networks registered 1.15 million more viewers, while cable network picked up 127,000.
Wednesday, there were 1.23 million additional viewers in the demo. Slightly fewer 18-to24-year-olds watched the broadcast networks, while 1.4 million more watched cable.
It wasn’t clear last week whether advertisers are willing yet to pay more for commercials now that a change in measurement has produced more viewers.
“Let’s look at the information and talk about it,” Mr. Donchin said. “We need to see what the numbers are and move forward.”
Top of the Curve
Some of the networks benefiting from the change were fairly predictable.
MTV added more than 100,000 viewers in the demo each day. It added 130,000 females in the demo on Monday when it aired “My Super Sweet 16,” “The Hills,” “Engaged and Underage” and “Dancelife.”
MTV knew it was attracting college students before Nielsen started counting them, said Brian Graden, president of MTV programming. He said the network targets 21-year-old viewers.
“We know that college is ground zero for us,” Mr. Graden told TelevisionWeek in an interview last week.
Mr. Graden said that getting credit for additional viewers is important, but MTV’s ad sales now are more about multiplatform packages that include media other than just TV.
“Increasingly ratings are but a component of what you want to offer the client,” he said. “They’re always important, but they’re not what they were five years ago.”
He said it would be a few weeks before the network could figure out how to use the new ratings to help figure out what types of shows appeal to the college audience. MTV has one show in particular in the pipeline he thinks will appeal to college kids, “Human Giant,” a fast paced-sketch comedy series.
“I’m hoping that will click with that audience,” Mr. Graden said.
Also, unsurprisingly, ESPN added 130,000 males on Monday night when it showed a college basketball doubleheader. It also added a handful of women viewers in the demo.
“We would like to think that Nielsen’s inclusion of students has something to do with this unique differential week-to-week. Can we know for sure? Not yet,” said Artie Bulgrin, senior VP of research and sales development at ESPN. “It’s a positive sign and now we have to see if a pattern emerges from here.”
Other cable networks, including Comedy Central and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, also picked up viewers most nights.
On broadcast, campus viewing was led by “American Idol,” which picked up more than 400,000 mostly female viewers during the week.
On Monday, NBC’s “Heroes” added 169,000 male viewers (fewer female viewers in the demo were tuned in). NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” added 190,000 mostly female viewers on Tuesday.