Marketing

Nielsen Changes Some Cable-Ratings Rules

7/09/2004 9:28 AM Eastern

After complaints from a group of cable programmers reacting to Nick at Nite and Nickelodeon suddenly having their viewership broken out separately, Nielsen Media Research Friday agreed to change some of its rules regarding the way it ranks cable-network ratings.

Essentially, the companies that wrote Nielsen seeking the change -- which include NBC Universal, Turner Broadcasting System Inc., Disney ABC Cable Networks Group, Scripps Networks, ESPN and Discovery Networks U.S. -- got part of what they requested in their June 16 letter to the ratings service.

The group had recommended that a network be required to offer programming for more than 50% of a daypart in order to be included in Nielsen’s rankings for that particular daypart.

And in a change of its policy, Nielsen agreed Friday to that requirement for “dayparts that are defined consistently for all networks.” In other words, Nielsen said, only networks that program for 51% or more of a daypart, such as primetime or weekday mornings, can be included in that daypart’s rankings.

This means Nickelodeon -- which only programs nine hours out of the 21 that make up primetime -- won’t be listed in Nielsen’s primetime rankings. However, Nick at Nite, which programs 12 hours in primetime, will continue to be listed in the primetime rankings.

That has officials at Nick and Nick at Nite happy, they said, since their main purpose in seeking stand-alone ratings for Nick at Nite was so that they could show advertisers the block’s full value in key demographics.

“We’re very pleased that today’s clarification from Nielsen fully supports Nick at Nite’s continued visibility and obvious success in both primetime and total day,” Nick spokesman David Bittler said.

The cable programmers that wrote the June 16 letter didn’t make much headway with Nielsen in terms of total-day rankings, however. In fact, Nielsen said cable networks can continue to define their own “day.”

However, throwing a bone to the complaining cable networks, Nielsen will change its label for that list, making it “total programming day” instead of “total day,” it said Friday.

“Nielsen is saying that the tradition in the cable business is that total day is something that every network defines for itself,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner. And that’s confusing, he claimed.

“In terms of primetime, they’ve applied a rule,” Wakshlag said of Nielsen, referring to networks having to program for 51% or more of a daypart.

“In terms of a definition of something called ‘total day,’ we have a different rule,” he added. “And in the cable business, if every network gets to define total day any way it wants, then what you end up with are rankings that are confusing at best, misleading at worst, and certainly inconsistent across what people would normally consider a daypart.”

The back-and-forth between Nielsen and its cable-network clients is part of the continuing aftermath of Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks’ decision earlier this year to have Nielsen break out primetime and total-day ratings for both Nick’s daytime kids’ programming and Nick at Nite, its adult-oriented evening block made up of old sitcoms.

A brouhaha ensured when, after the change, Nick started to shoot to No. 1 in primetime, ahead of Turner Network Television and USA Network. As a result, non-Viacom cable programmers asked Nielsen to clarify how it defined a cable network for ratings-ranking purposes.

Nielsen issued a memo on its policies on cable-network reporting April 23. In that client memo, Nielsen said a network must air contiguous periods of programming amounting collectively to at least 15 hours each week in order to be included for syndicated measurement.

Now that Nielsen has nailed down its policies, Turner will look to make the best of the situation. There has been speculation that Cartoon Network will seek to break out ratings for its high-rated adult block, “Adult Swim.”

Wakshlag declined to comment on that possibility, but he did say, “We’re glad that Nielsen has issued a set of rules that people can finally understand. And we will explore the opportunities that this clarification presents for our company.”

He added that he has no problem with Nick breaking out ratings for Nick at Nite.

“We don’t have any issue, by the way, with Nickelodeon or Nick at Nite and how they choose to have their businesses rated,” Wakshlag said. “We think it was right for Nielsen to conform to the business wishes of its customer. But we are not comfortable with what we perceive to be inconsistent applications of across what we consider to be dayparts.”