Ahhh...the good old days of TV ratings. Send out a survey books, ask households to tell demographic information about themselves, and to recall the shows they watched and who in the family watched them. Mail back the form, aggregate and analyze the sample data, and predict what the whole nation watched. Add phone call sampling to the mix and get a quicker sense which shows were watched. But today it is no longer that simple.
Today there are a ton more viewing choices, linear views on broadcast or cable, DVR views, and On-demand views. Households watch shows no longer live, but also hours, days and perhaps even weeks later. They watch on televisions, computers, tablets, and smartphones. And as each view is a digital click, they can be measured and analyzed. And because all these devices affect ratings, their order and popularity can continue to shift.
As for advertisers paying to get their commercials viewed with content, there are limitations. "Total popularity does not perfectly correlate with profitability, however, since the networks all agree to sell ad time based on a metric called “C3.” It measures the average viewing of the commercials within a show within three days of the first broadcast, so it excludes people who wait to watch Wednesday’s “Modern Family” until Sunday or Monday." Certainly the push is on to extend the time period, but until then, advertisers can consider those extra views bonused; unless of course, that impression is simply built into the price of the spot.
The data may more accurately tell who has the TV on. Whether they paid attention to the spot remains to be seen. Certainly, the more creative the commercial, the more likely there will be buzz and views around it. The Super Bowl ads certainly demonstrate that.