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New Nets’ Fates Are Sealed

Mar 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The two freshman networks set to debut this fall, The CW and MyNetworkTV, are on track to be categorized by Nielsen Media Research as different classes of networks.

No matter how many affiliates Fox’s MyNetworkTV signs up over the next few months, it is all but certain to launch Sept. 5 categorized as a limited network.

The CW will be categorized by Nielsen as a full broadcast network when it is launched in September by Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp.

Network classifications are determined by a combination of distribution level, affiliate contracts and the number of hours of programming delivered per week.

The primary impact on ratings data of a network being categorized as a limited network as opposed to a full network is that “If you’re limited network, there are a handful of ratings reports, just a few, that your network is not listed in,” said Sara Erichson, Nielsen’s general manager in charge of national business.

Those ancillary reports are known to Nielsen and its clients as Pocketpieces.

Complete information on all programming seen in the U.S., including limited networks, is available to all national clients on what Nielsen calls its Electronic Data Tape, “which is where the real buying and selling occurs,” Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said.

Limited-network status is “a fairly minor distinction, from a reporting perspective,” Ms. Erichson said.

Nielsen will be working with the networks in the coming months to ensure both are ready to be included in national reports when they debut, she said.

“We definitely have work to do. But I think it’s a fair statement to say that so long as we’re working with them between now and launch and all the other steps have been taken care of, they certainly can be up and running with ratings by the launch of their respective networks if that’s what they want to do,” Ms. Erichson said.

“Once the contract is done and all the criteria are met, the network is added into all the national reports and systems,” she said, adding that it would be inappropriate to say whether Nielsen had begun contract discussions with either of the new networks.

The difference between a full broadcast network and a limited network is not as simple as how many stations have been lined up to carry each network’s programming and how many hours of programming it is offering.

The technical explanation from Nielsen is that a full broadcast network distributes at least 15 hours of programming per week to contractually affiliated stations and the programming, with a few allowed exceptions, must be received in at least 70 percent of U.S. TV homes. (The occasional irregularly scheduled program with a reach of as little as 30 percent of the country is acceptable, according to the Nielsen guidelines.)

There are two ways to qualify as a limited broadcast network. One is to distribute less than 15 hours of programming per week to at least 70 percent of the country, and the other is to distribute at least 15 hours of programming per week to at least 30 percent of the country.

The CW plans to distribute 30 hours of programming per week; MyTV plans 12 hours.

As of last week, The CW had signed 54 affiliates to carry its signal to upward of 68 percent of U.S. TV homes, and MyTV had signed 65 affiliates to carry its signal to more than 55 percent of the country.

Among the subjects likely to come up for both networks in determining their national distribution level is whether some of the digital-only affiliations made will get credit for full coverage of a market, since that would depend on viewers owning sets capable of receiving the digital signal in areas not penetrated by cable and satellite, which can get the digital signal to older TV sets.

The limited network distinction was created to deal with Fox Broadcasting, which began its prime-time rollout with Sunday nights in April 1987.

The WB will die at the end of the summer as a full broadcast network. UPN will die at the same time as a limited network.

In addition to UPN, the limited network category includes Telemundo and Telefutura, both of which have joined Nielsen’s National Television Index sample in the last three months.