Networks Lash Out at Nick Ratings


New York -- As part of a brouhaha over Nick at Nite’s ratings status as a stand-alone network, a group of major programmers — including Turner Broadcasting System Inc., NBC Universal, Discovery Networks U.S. and ESPN — has asked Nielsen Media Research to change how it defines cable networks for ranking purposes.

Research executives from programming companies representing several dozen cable channels sent Nielsen a letter asking it to “create a new protocol for ranking basic cable networks that conveys to the general user the appropriate competitive standing.”
The June 16 letter relates to the stir created earlier this year, when MTV Networks Inc. asked Nielsen to start breaking out separate ratings for its daytime childrens’ programming and Nick at Nite, Nickelodeon’s evening adult block. With its ratings broken out as if it were two separate networks, Nick in some cases has ranked No. 1 in primetime, jumping ahead of such services as Turner Network Television and USA Network.
On April 23, Nielsen issued a detailed explanation to its clients about how it defines a cable network, saying that to qualify for syndicated measurement, a cable network must air contiguous periods of programming “amounting collectively to at least 15 hours of programming each week.”
In addition, cable networks can choose to define their own “total day” measurement period, as long as they exclude non-commercial or paid programming. 
But those definitions didn’t pass muster with the cable programmers who signed the letter, which include — in addition to ESPN, Turner, NBC and Discovery — ABC Cable Networks Group, A&E Networks, Court TV, Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Television, Scripps Networks and The Weather Channel.
Their letter said: “It is our view that a ‘ranking’ infers that networks contained in a ranking report compete with each other. In current ranking reports released to the press Nick at Nite and Nickelodeon are both shown, even though they do not air at the same time and do not compete.”
The letter goes on, “Under the present rules, a ‘network’ that programs as little as 1 minute per week in a daypart, for example in primetime or total day, could be compared with networks that program the full daypart.”
The programmers said, “As a group, we would like to recommend what we believe is a clear and logical solution: to be included in any daypart ranker, a network must program more than 50% of that daypart. Networks that program less than that should be reported separately.”
Under that rule, Nick at Nite would appear in Nielsen’s primetime ranking, but Nick would not.
“We await Nielsen’s response,” Turner Broadcasting System Inc. chief research officer Jack Wakshlag said Tuesday.
A Nielsen spokesman said the company had received the letter and understands its requests. It will contact the networks that sent it, and its other clients, “to work together on this.”
He said, “Ultimately, we just have to come up with a solution that best suits everyone…You have to have everybody involved.” The letter points out that Nielsen’s contract boilerplate requires that clients who cite Nielsen data in advertising and promotion “correctly state the facts in a manner not likely to mislead the reader.”
The letter tells Nielsen that it’s important that the ratings service abide by the same rules in its own public release of data.
“A failure to do so will only contribute to a growing mistrust of Nielsen by its clients, the press, and ultimately the public at a time when trust is a highly important factor,” the letter said.