updated 1/29/2007 2:38:30 PM ET 2007-01-29T19:38:30

College students will no longer be invisible to the company that measures TV viewing once they leave home.

Starting this week, Nielsen Media Research will begin tracking what college students are watching in their dorms, a development that could significantly boost the ratings — and advertising income — for programs popular among young people.

Until now, college-aged students were only included in Nielsen’s ranking if they didn’t actually attend college, or when they were home during vacations. For families with students who agree to have their viewership measured, Nielsen will now attach its “people meter” to televisions in dorm rooms, common areas, sororities or wherever students primarily watch TV.

To start, 130 college students are participating in the study, through which assumptions will be made about college-aged viewing in general, Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes said Monday.

MTV, ESPN, Fox and others paid for a three-year pilot program that revealed dramatic differences in the viewing habits of college-aged men and women.

Adding in viewership by college students, primarily women, increased the ratings for ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” by 53 percent in November, Nielsen said. “Desperate Housewives,” “Ugly Betty” and “America’s Next Top Model” were other shows particularly popular with college women.

The program to see the biggest jump in ratings when college-aged men were counted was Comedy Central’s “Drawn Together,” Nielsen said. Football, “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” also did well with the men added.

It’s the first in a series of steps Nielsen is planning over the next few years to measure TV viewing outside of the home, including video streams.

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