'Nick' Shift Could Prompt Changes


Responding to complaints from a large group of cable programmers, Nielsen Media Research last week said it may change the way it ranks networks in terms of ratings.

On the section of its Web site that provides ratings for the press, Nielsen delayed for several days posting cable rankings for the week of June 21, “due to pending changes in the rules for the cable prime ratings.”

The measurement company finally posted those ratings late last week, with the new caveat, “Please note that we are currently considering changes to our rules concerning cable network rankings.”

Nielsen's evaluation of its rules comes in response to a June 16 letter from several dozen cable networks, which asked the ratings company to adopt a different measure for the way it ranks cable services,

The letter stems from the stir created when MTV Networks Inc. asked Nielsen to start breaking out separate ratings for Nickelodeon's evening adult block, Nick at Nite, as well as Nick, with its daytime kids' programming. With its ratings separated beginning on March 29, Nick in some cases has ranked No. 1 in primetime, ahead of services such as Turner Network Television and USA Network.

Thus, the research chiefs at Turner Broadcasting System, the Disney ABC Cable Networks Group, NBC Universal, Discovery Networks, EPSN, A&E Networks, Court TV, Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Television, Scripps Networks and The Weather Channel all asked Nielsen to re-evaluate the way it is defining a “cable network” for ranking purposes.

The programmers' research executives asked Nielsen to “create a new protocol for ranking basic cable networks that conveys to the general user the appropriate competitive standing.”

Their letter stated: “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.”

Nickelodeon opposes Nielsen making any changes in its definition of a network, or how it is ranking them now.

“Nick at Nite is well within the framework of Nielsen's definition of a network,” a Nick spokesman said. “For us this is all about giving Nick at Nite the credit it deserves with audiences.”