OK, way too many pie charts, bar graphs and acronyms for a Sunday morning: At today’s TCA briefings, NBC Research and Development President Alan Wurtzel tried to explain why old-school, traditional Nielsen ratings just don’t mean what they used to. And  given that, he begged TV journalists to examine the much bigger picture before calling a new program a big loser.

If you sat in on this panel, you got to hear a lot of talk about such ratings jargon as HUTs (households using television) PUTs (persons using television) and “longtail” program consumption (not a weird squirrel but that audience of people who watch a show after its first airing by catching it on VOD, or Netflix, or Hulu or any other of an exploding array of  new platforms)

Specifically, Wurtzel implored ratings watchers to look at the TAMi  (Total Audience Measure Index, not a movie reference), which adds the sometimes-significant viewership of a show on those digital platforms atop the numbers measured in the long-revered Nielsen ratings. These TAMi figures can be particularly illuminating when evaluating bubble shows like Parks & Recreation, which draws comparatively low traditional ratings but attracts high viewership on digital platforms, particularly among the advertiser-favored 18-34 crowd.  (Scary fact: a surprisingly large number of people watching TV shows on smartphones and tablets even if they are at home and have a TV available).

Wurtzel said the networks are already measuring the various platforms, but, and this is where it gets complicated, “I just can’t put it in the ratings that you see.” What’s needed, he said, is a “harmonic metric” that pulls all those disparate metrics together.  “I want one number that comes out, but at the same time I want to deconstruct it,” Wurtzel said.  “I’ll retire the TAMi the day Nielsen comes up with that cross-platform number.”