Time Not on TV Execs’ Side in Fall 2007

Apr 24, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Executives throughout the television business better start bracing themselves for fall 2007.

The November sweeps ratings period next year is going to start with a potential ratings whammy-three days of Daylight Saving Time. It ends with a for-sure ratings whammy: Thanksgiving,

The jolt to the industry won’t stop there, either. While this won’t happen every year, it will happen again.

The main culprit: The imminent extension of Daylight Saving Time mandated by an omnibus energy bill President Bush signed last year. The bill calls for four additional weeks of Daylight Saving per year starting in 2007. Daylight Saving will begin three weeks earlier, on the second Sunday in March, and end one week later, on the first Sunday in November, than has been the pattern since 1986.

Daylight Saving will end next year at 2 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 4. Thanksgiving, always the fourth Thursday of the month, will fall on Nov. 22.

The November 2007 ratings survey will run Nov. 1 through Nov. 28, according to Nielsen Media Research, which last week revealed its 2006-07 broadcast-season sweeps dates.

Nielsen prefers not to include a time change during a sweeps because of the possibility of confusion on the part of diary keepers.

Programmers, whose revenues fall when ratings fall, don’t like having Thanksgiving included in the sweeps because viewership drops dramatically when tens of millions of people hit the highways or airports for a long holiday weekend with relatives.

But when it came to scheduling the November 2007 sweeps, Nielsen was caught between a rock, a hard place and the calendar.

Allure of Mild Weather

If Nielsen had moved the sweeps ahead a week in order for the ratings book to close before Thanksgiving, that would have impinged on the October survey taken in 25 Nielsen Station Index markets.

If Nielsen had moved the sweeps back a week to open the ratings book after the time change, it would have meant that TV stations wouldn’t receive the books containing ratings and demographic data back from Nielsen until Christmas crunch time.

“Next year will be kind of an anomaly. It’s one of the years when Thanksgiving is a little earlier in November,” Nielsen spokeswoman Kerry Kielar said. “In this situation, the calendar fell the way it fell.”

As for how the four extra weeks of Daylight Saving Time might affect the ratings in general, the extra week in fall is fraught with the most potential for impact. If the weather is mild enough to lure people outside and away from the TV set just because it is staying lighter later, that will happen when the broadcast season still is new and peoples’ adjusted viewing habits are not yet set.

Whether in spring or fall, the biggest impact of Daylight Saving Time on the TV business falls between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., a block that has the most potent implications for syndicated programs, local and network newscasts, and the first hour of networks’ prime-time lineups.

In a TelevisionWeek story about the potential impact of the additional weeks of Daylight Saving Time in November 2005, David Poltrack, the executive VP of research and planning for CBS, estimated the effect of four more weeks of later sunsets would amount to a loss of less than one-tenth of one percentage point on the level of Persons Using Television annually.