Misleading Ratings?

Mar 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

National ratings for syndication are misleading, and the way the numbers are reported needs to change. That’s the argument made by Moira Coffey, King World’s veteran head of research.
“National ratings work great for prime time, they work great for late-night, they work great for cable, but they no longer really service anything but the advertising community when it comes down to syndicated national ratings,” Ms. Coffey said.
Which is to say that what national advertisers care about are total eyeballs, so national ratings, which aggregate, or “cume,” multiple runs of a particular syndicated program-say Judge Judy at both 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., or The Oprah Winfrey Show at 4 p.m. and in late-night-are fine for the national advertisers, but misleading for local-market advertisers and station executives, whether on the ad sales or the programming side.
“There isn’t any way for [the broadcast station community] to know really anymore what’s working and what’s not in local markets in syndication,” Ms. Coffey said.
“What she is saying is true,” said David Poltrack, executive VP, research and planning, CBS Television. “What the national syndicators sell is a grossed-up audience figure, so that multiple runs will be accumulated. … That creates a larger rating than the local television station is selling. The local station is selling each one of those spots individually, they’re not selling the combination of runs.”
“I’d like to see [syndicated sweeps reporting by the trade press] done on a cross-market basis,” Ms. Coffey said, “so that what we’re doing is we’re really representing the ability of a show to generate a rating in any given market.”
“A station can ask Nielsen to do that,” said one syndication executive who requested anonymity. “It would cost a few thousand dollars.” A station could even ask the syndicator to pick up the tab, the executive said.
Ms. Coffey suggested solving the problem with a quarterly report of syndicated rankings based on primary telecasts only, rather than on double runs, “so it would say to stations, `You are more likely to get this kind of a rating on your television station than the rating you are going to see in the national rankings.”
Oprah did just fine in the recently concluded February sweeps, but at the beginning of the month King World’s chief researcher was concerned that the national ratings would be down for the Queen of Talk. Why? The short answer is Jimmy Kimmel. The longer answer is that the advent of The Jimmy Kimmel Show on ABC meant that in those ABC markets where The Oprah Winfrey Show was airing in a double run-once in the afternoon and again in late-night-the Queen of Talk “ended up getting pushed back an hour,” Ms. Coffey said.
“We’ve lost a significant number of households to accommodate ABC’s new late-night show,” she said, noting that Kimmel is not the most compatible lead-in to Oprah.
In all, Oprah is double run in eight ABC affiliate markets and five other, smaller markets that are unaffected by The Kimmel Show. Pushing Oprah back an hour to make room for Kimmel could cost “half a national rating point,” Ms. Coffey said. “It affects our barter. It affects the value of the show for the advertising community.” But as it turned out, Oprah was so dominant in its primary run that it more than made up for the lost viewers in late-night.
Indeed, Oprah had a terrific sweeps month. Not only did Ms. Winfrey make the Forbes magazine list of billionaires in February, but for the week ending Feb. 16 her show turned in season-high ratings, up 15 percent over a year ago, and in the week after that Oprah registered its best household ratings since the February 2000 sweeps.
“The stations that are running the show at 4 o’clock are delighted,” Ms. Coffey said. “Broadcast stations are underserved by the trade press when it comes to putting out ratings that are good indicators of how programs perform in local markets.”