Who Watched Breaking Bad?

July 13, 2020

Author: Guy Soreq

Walter White sits alone at the counter of a Denny’s restaurant having his breakfast: bacon, two eggs sunny-side up and hashbrowns. This is the opening scene of the last season of Breaking Bad, a wildly popular show that originally aired from 2008 to 2013. As the last season progressed, the Nielsen Company estimated huge volatility in viewership, down 21% from one episode to the next. This volatility - in the otherwise stable world of show binge watching - caused advertisers to doubt the validity of Nielsen’s data.

You’d be hard pressed to find the exact number of Nielson households published online, but an estimate in 2014 suggested 6,200 households spread across the United States. Not surprisingly, the company keeps this data shrouded in secrecy. With a total 304.5 million TV viewers in the USA, the number we do have suggests that each sample represents 49,113 viewers. No wonder there’s so much volatility in the data. And then there are the sampling errors brought on by viewer behavior - how many people are watching from a smartphone or outside the home?

In our world, IHS Markit publishes a monthly index - the Purchasing Managers Index - based on a survey sent to anything between 12K to 28K purchasing managers in over 40 countries around the world. It is truly an impressive feat, creating a critical measure of the direction of economic trends in the manufacturing and service sectors. The results are added up and plotted as a single number, where the 50 line marks the middle between growth and contraction of market conditions.

Who Watched Breaking Bad?

Like the Nielson ratings, PMI has significant blind spots brought on by non-random sampling. Industry surveys like PMI struggle to accurately account for and thus reflect the behavior of small businesses, which make up a significant share of the industry. During these troubling economic times, these companies are more likely to have furloughed workers and purchasing managers who are even more stressed for time. Even if they were included as one of the 28,000 exclusive PMI members, the lack of available time and resources to complete the survey creates selection bias.

When we created Glowlit, it was important that our market intelligence represent the entire industry. We wanted to include the corners of the industry that had been previously underrepresented - the feed mills, premixers and distributors that were priced out of other market intelligence solutions. We offer our most basic report for free because we know that collecting data from this sector of the industry is critical if we want to have truly comprehensive analysis. Why does this matter so much to us? Because access to good data about our industry has consequences far more high stakes than our favorite show’s ratings.