Almost as perennial as the November sweeps itself is the ongoing discussion over whether the sweeps-an Eisenhower-era creation-still serves a purpose in an increasingly fractured 21st century marketplace that is rapidly changing, thanks to technology.
“Sweeps are going to get less and less important as time goes on,” said Bruce Goerlich, executive VP and director of strategic resources for ZenithOptimedia USA. “Buyers are looking at buys on a 12-month basis.”
Mr. Goerlich added that even though CBS’s sweeps win in adults 18 to 49 is significant for the network, the overall impact isn’t what it used to be.
“While it’s a good thing, it’s certainly less important now than the last time they won it,” he said.
Tom Bierbaum, VP of ratings and program information for NBC Universal Television Group, also played down the significance of sweeps, particularly for the broadcasters. “To the networks I don’t think it means a great deal,” he said. “They are to measure the local stations. It is a chance to give our local stations a good book. The importance of the month diminishes with each passing year as we get People Meters in more markets.
“Television is getting away from artificially competitive periods that are imposed for artificial reasons such as sweeps. The more we can get away from that, everyone will be happy. [We will] program more to the needs of the audience rather than the needs of Nielsen technology.”
John Rash, senior VP of national broadcast for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis, said sweeps as a tool for viewer measurement is an “audience anachronism” that seems ironically out of date in a medium that is constantly changing. But any talk of the demise of sweeps is still premature, he said, especially since it gives advertisers head-to-head comparisons of the networks.
“Until nearly every market goes to continual measurement, they will exist,” Mr. Rash said. “They will be important, and an important yardstick, since they feature competition between original programs.”