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Glenn Halbrooks

Nielsen Releases 2011-2012 DMA Rankings

By September 7, 2011

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Most people love reading top ten lists about anything. People who work for local TV stations anxiously await a list of their own -- the annual Nielsen DMA rankings, which isn't a list of 10, but instead 210 designated market areas.

A photo of a television control room
People who work in local TV are eager to see the latest Nielsen DMA rankings.
Photo © VisionsofAmerica / Joe Sohm / Getty Images
The 2011-2012 Nielsen list is now out, which ranks DMAs based on the number of TV households. New York City is ranked at the top, with tiny Glendive, Montana, perenially bringing up the rear as market #210.

The reason people who work in local TV markets want to see the annual list is it can give them bragging rights over those in other cities. For instance, this year Washington, DC has surpassed Atlanta to become Nielsen's eighth-largest DMA.

You can bet someone working for a DC-area TV station will be calling a buddy at an Atlanta TV affiliate to say he now works in a larger market. It sounds juvenile, but this good-natured ribbing will happen countless times all over the country as markets move up and down the list.

Some markets have shown explosive growth in recent years -- Las Vegas, Nevada, which is now 40th, and Ft. Myers, Florida, now ranked 62nd -- are two examples. Both of these markets were in the 90s about 20 years ago, before large numbers of people started moving to the sunbelt.

On the flip side, New Orleans, which suffered a population drop after Hurricane Katrina, has still not bounced back. It's ranked 52nd, when it had once been in the 30s.

Nielsen's DMA list is important -- especially to national advertisers, who may want to only run commercials in the top 50 or top 100 DMAs. People who work in local TV news also look at the list as they plot their next career move, saying that if they're working in a 120s market today, they need to send out resumes to stations in the top 70.

But for news people who are constantly on the move, there are other factors to consider than this market list. A smaller city with a military base or a university may have more news to cover than a larger, sleepy town. A beach community might be a better place to live than a city in the rust belt. Taxes and housing costs are less in some places. Paychecks are larger in others.

So while scouring the list, remember that a job in market #55 Fresno isn't automatically better than one in #56 Little Rock, #57 Richmond or #67 Wichita. Every opening has to be investigated for its benefits beyond market size.

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