NEW YORK: Youth appeal television programs in the US are set to see ratings soar this week as Nielsen Media Research for the first time includes in its count viewing by college students living away from home. Networks such as Fox, CW and ESPN are expected to benefit when higher viewing figures boost advertising dollars.

Comments Jeff Lucas, svp at Comedy Central channel: "It's going to validate what advertisers have always assumed, which is that college students are watching our programming."

But measuring students' TV viewing is not without its difficulties. There is no doubt they tune into a significant amount of TV - three and a half hours a day on average, according to Nielsen, which announced its college ratings plan a year ago [WARC News: 17-Feb-06].

But they are also likely to be doing other things while the TV set is switched-on: for example web browsing, watching streaming video, text messaging and playing video games.

Says New York brand developer Matt Britton: "College students have the television on in the background at the same time they undoubtedly have their computers on They're online — searching Facebook, doing research, shopping."

This begs the vexed question of how much attention students actually pay to commercials while they are busy multitasking.

Despite these uncertainties, Britton says two broadcast networks have contacted his firm about increased marketing on college campuses.

In addition, avers media agency svp Brad Adgate, advertisers may increase their payments to networks with large college audiences because of the perceived lifetime value of the market.

He says: "If you can get them using your product at age 20, they could be using it for the next 60 years."

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff