Uproar Over Nick Split

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Several cable networks are complaining to Nielsen Media Research about splitting the ratings for Nickelodeon and its adult primetime block, Nick at Nite — a new practice that’s catapulted those MTV Networks services to the top of the ratings lists.

Programmers, including Lifetime Television and the ABC Cable Networks Group, have griped to Nielsen about the change in reporting, and want the ratings service to provide a detailed definition of what a “cable network” is, for purposes of viewership measurement.

Nielsen expects to nail down and release a more detailed explanation of “cable network” in the next week or so, spokeswoman Laura James said last week.

“We’re talking about rules for what constitutes a cable network,” said Tim Brooks, Lifetime Television’s executive vice president of research.

Nielsen has a written definition of what qualifies as a broadcast network, but said it’s never needed to nail down one for cable.

Late last month, Viacom Inc.’s MTVN disclosed that it asked Nielsen, as of the second quarter, to break out separate ratings for Nick, which runs kids shows during the day and the early evening, and Nick at Nite, which airs adult off-network sitcoms in primetime and overnight.

Other programmers say that’s giving Nickelodeon its own primetime number, even though it only has nine hours of programming in primetime versus 12 for Nick at Nite and 21 for other cable channels.

Since the new reporting method went into effect, Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite have ascended the ratings ranks.

During the week of April 5 to 11, Nick and Nick at Nite ranked first and second, respectively, in primetime.

Defending the new measurement, an MTVN spokesman said, “It’s less about hours and more about when you’re on the air programming to a specific targeted audience.”

Brooks claimed many cable research chiefs, himself included, were “blindsided” and only heard about the change just one week before it went into effect.

“We’re all curious about what are the rules and what else could somebody do,” Brooks said.

The Nielsen spokeswoman pointed out that not all cable networks are 24-hour services.

“Something like 40% of them are not,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be 24 hours. … A cable network has to have consistent, continuous programming throughout the year, and it has to be promoted and sold and marketed as a separate network. So right now, that’s the criteria.”

Along those lines, Nick and Nick at Nite have their own sales, marketing and research teams; conduct individual promotion; and operate as separate networks even though they share a channel.

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