As predictably as the tides, you can expect MMA website to hem and haw over the weekly Bellator ratings and what the increases and decreases mean for the promotion and MMA as a whole. There is much hand-wringing over the gain or loss of 75,000 viewers. For example, see MMA Junkie's latest weekly update:
There was concern last week over a near record-low of only 108,000 viewers and jubilation this week over a return to 175,000 viewers. The problem is that these numbers are all estimations and the difference between last week and this week is equal to less than two dozen households.
Here's some math to prove my point:
After Googling for these numbers for about three minutes, I found that Nielson estimates about 116 million television households in the United Stats for 2011 (source: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/media_entertainment/number-of-u-s-tv-households-climbs-by-one-million-for-2010-11-tv-season/)
The sample that Nielson uses for overnight ratings, those with set top boxes, was supposed to be 37,000 households by 2011 (source: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/press-room/2007/Nielsen_Begins_Largest_Ever_Expansion_of_Its_National_U_S__Television_Ratings_Panel_.html)
That means that each Nielson household represents 3,135 viewers in their ratings (116 million / 37,000 = ~3,135).
So let's get this straight. Last week, Bellator was watched in 35 Nielson households (108,000 / 3,135 = ~35). This week, Bellator was watched in 56 households (175,000 / 3,135 =~56). This means that 21 people watched something else, went to a party, or fell asleep last week who didn't this week. And next week when the ratings show up and the numbers change by 30,000 or so, it will mean 10 other people who watched.
You will hear many people in the advertising world debate the accuracy of the Nielson ratings, as well as those of their competitors (I don't know whose ratings Bellator trusts). But all of them are based on statistical sampling, which always carries a margin of error. So here's a modest proposal: Unless the numbers rise or drop by hundreds of thousands of viewers, can we all just agree that their viewership is pretty steady and that the actions of a dozen or so people don't really matter to us? This kind of coverage feeds the beast of the MMA news cycle, but when you read it, please keep in mind that throwing a party and inviting 15 of your friends is the equivalent of throwing off Bellator's viewership numbers by almost 50,000 people.