Nielsen Data in Question

Oct 6, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Fewer young viewers watched television during the broadcast networks’ premiere week than last year, and the Big 6 networks’ ratings likewise fell off-prompting some nets to question Nielsen’s data.
Television usage was down 5 percent among adults 18 to 34, down 3 percent among adults 18 to 49 and down 6 percent among adults 12 to 34 compared with the same period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. Ratings for the six networks combined were down 7 percent in adults 18 to 49.
ABC was the only network showing growth in the 18 to 49 and 18 to 34 demos. Through the first nine days of the season, ABC was still the only network up (by 10 percent), while Fox was flat in the demo.
Several of the broadcast networks don’t buy the going theory that lower television usage is due to natural erosion. They have complained to Nielsen about their sample, charging that it does not accurately represent young viewers. One particular point of suspicion: Usage levels being down 10 percent in the men 18 to 34 demographic.
Nielsen is investigating the complaints, said a spokeswoman.
“We are continuing to look at it because obviously, it’s something we need to make sure is not an inaccuracy but may be part of a natural viewing cycle.”
She said that Nielsen has studied the past five years of data and discovered that the fluctuations are cyclical. Persons-using-television levels were actually lower in 1999 than this year. “The ups and downs show it is similar in pattern in previous years,” she said.
Nielsen also made adjustments to its sample to better reflect young viewership, she said.
While Nielsen accuracy is debated, broadcast viewership has been continually eroding. Basic cable is up 8 percent during premiere week, a gain network researchers say is par for the course these days as cable continues to invest in original programming. “The new season does not have the same resonance for viewers in younger demographics who grew up with a full panoply of cable options as it does for viewers who were conditioned decades before that this was a significant cultural event,” said John Rash, senior VP and director of broadcast negotiations at Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis.
Network-by-network premiere week ratings analyses follow.
First nine days: Up 8 percent in adults 18 to 49 and up 6 percent in total viewers
ABC carried its Monday through Wednesday night success over into the second week of the season, winning Monday and Tuesday nights last week in adults 18 to 49 and finishing second on Wednesday night.
ABC got viewers to tune in to the premiere of new Wednesday sitcom “It’s All Relative,” which won its time slot in the demo. New Wednesday drama “Karen Sisco” didn’t fare as well, finishing second with a 3.3/9, but losing 31 percent of the 18 to 49 audience of its “Bachelor” lead-in.
“What surprised us the most is the growth on so many nights and in so many different time periods,” said ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne. “To see returning shows do as well as they did and to be able to launch a few new shows very strongly, the signs were encouraging.”
That said, ABC got off to a strong start on Tuesdays and Wednesdays last season and promptly lost momentum when Fox’s “American Idol” dominated on both of those nights. That same scenario could play out again this year. “We are looking closely at when `American Idol’ is coming back and how we can create episodes that will be events in and of themselves,” Ms. Lyne said.
The network could also see some falloff when it is forced to start running “8 Simple Rules” reruns Oct. 14, while the producers of the show are working to incorporate star John Ritter’s death into new episodes.
First nine days: Down 7 percent in adults 18 to 49 and down 7 percent in total viewers
Last week’s episode of “Coupling”-the highest-rated new sitcom in adults 18 to 49 during premiere week-was down 15 percent in rating over the first episode, but retained more of its lead-in audience. It retained 79 percent of “Will & Grace’s” viewers in the demo.
“Las Vegas” also held onto a good portion of its audience when it moved to its regular time period, coming in third in adults 18 to 49 at 9 p.m. on Monday; and “Good Morning, Miami” premiered last Tuesday to a second-place finish in the demo and held onto 91 percent of “Frasier’s” audience.
“The thing I am most pleased about is the strength of our returning shows,” said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, noting strong premieres for “Fear Factor,” the “Law & Order” franchise, “Ed,” “The West Wing,” “Friends,” “Will & Grace,” “ER” and “American Dreams.” All of those shows won their time slots in adults 18 to 49 during premiere week except for “Ed,” which finished second.
First nine days: Down 16 percent in adults 18 to 49 and down 3 percent in total viewers
CBS had something to crow about last week with an hourlong “King of Queens” debuting in its regular 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot. It tied “The Bachelor” for second-place in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.8/12 and finished second in total viewers after “The West Wing.”
CBS continued to perform well on Thursday last week, winning the night in total viewers and cutting NBC’s 18 to 49 margin of victory to 19 percent from 27 percent the week before.
CBS won premiere week in total viewers with an average 14 million viewers, and claimed the top new comedy in total viewers (“Two and a Half Men”) and top four new dramas in total viewers (“Cold Case,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Navy NCIS” and “The Handler”). “Overall, we’re thrilled most of our new shows have opened either winning or very competitive in their time periods,” said Kelly Kahl, executive VP of program planning and scheduling at CBS.
First nine days: Flat in adults 18 to 49 and down 7 percent in total viewers
Fox has yet to roll out its fall schedule because of its commitment to Major League Baseball, but the network did see a few bright spots last week. The finale of “Paradise Hotel” finished in fourth place in its Wednesday 9 p.m. time slot but pulled a solid 4.6/11 in adults 18 to 49. The first game of the Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves playoff series also did well, with a 4.1/12 in the demo.
First nine days: Down 16 percent in adults 18 to 49 and down 18 percent in total viewers
UPN, which launched the majority of its schedule before premiere week, saw its Monday comedy block continue to grow (and beat The WB’s “Everwood” from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.) and Tuesday sitcoms “One on One” and the new “All of Us” perform well against other nets’ premieres.
While the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Tuesday sitcoms “Rock Me Baby” and “The Mullets” haven’t done well, “We feel like we’re off to a pretty good start on Tuesday night,” said Eric Cardinal, senior VP of research at UPN. “We feel we’re in the game on Tuesday night.”
The WB
First nine days: Down 19 percent in adults 18 to 49 and down 13 percent in total viewers
The WB got a boost last week when “Smallville” premiered in its new Wednesday 8 p.m. time slot and tied for fourth in adults 18 to 49 with a 3.0/8. “Charmed” also turned in a stellar performance with its two-hour Sunday premiere scoring a 2.9/7 in adults 18 to 49 and 6.3 million viewers.
That was good news for The WB, which stumbled Tuesday of premiere week. “Gilmore Girls” was down year to year and new drama “One Tree Hill” barely showed up with a 0.8 rating/2 share in adults 18 to 49. “Tree” did build 37 percent in its second week to a 1.1/3.
A more detailed version of this story can be found online at www.tvweek.com.