Editorial: Hasta la Vista, Sweeps System

Feb 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In a period of transformation, uncertainty and rapid change for the TV industry, at least one of the changes on the broadcasting horizon is a welcome one. That change is the widespread introduction of Nielsen Media Research’s People Meter systems, which is expected to result in the eventual demise of sweeps.
Sweeps have long been one of TV’s dirty little secrets-an unrealistic and largely inaccurate system for determining ad rates for local markets based on something as whimsical as which news broadcast happened to uncover the most alarming plastic surgery disasters or which network came up with the most titillating celebrity interview during February, May or November.
The end of sweeps and the transition to the 52-week ratings schedule enabled by the People Meter can’t come soon enough. This transformation brings with it an opportunity to reinvent both local and national broadcasting, which means spreading the best programming throughout the year and programming local news in a professional manner year-round.
Put simply, the People Meter, which replaces Nielsen’s antiquated diary system, is a better tool for determining ratings and advertising rates. It quickly provides more accurate data 24 hours a day, broken down by any number of meaningful demographics.
Already in use in Boston, the People Meter is set to roll out this year in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco. The rest of the top 10 markets are scheduled to follow by 2006. The Boston rollout, a test run for the People Meter, ran into its share of controversy, as those groups with reason to think they might be adversely impacted argued to keep the old way of doing business. But things eventually settled down, and now most of the market is on board.
TV professionals in those markets where the meters are coming would do well to help make the transition as seamless as possible by embracing and supporting the new system. The fact is TV is more competitive than ever, with viewing choices offered by broadcast, cable, satellite and home video. It no longer makes sense to bundle all the best programming into a few periods. Today viewers demand fresh choices year-round. If the demise of sweeps means smarter programming in every daypart, throughout the year, it can’t help but be a positive step for television.