November was once filled with successful TV shows. What happened?

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One of the most important periods of the broadcast season was the four sweep months (November, February, May and July), when the ratings of all local TV stations were measured by Nielsen. TV channels / stations have issued numerous press releases touting their ratings, there were articles in trade publications and topical articles in entertainment magazines and TV programs highlighting success stories in audience matter. The November scans were of particular importance as they allowed stations to assess, for the first time, the new programming schedules that had started at the end of September.

These days, there is little to no media coverage of the November sweeps. Contributing reasons include more comprehensive ratings available in the local TV markets and viewers’ preference for watching cable and streaming video that is unaffected by the scans. Wayne Friedman, West Coast Editor, MediaPost Communications, says, “I can’t remember the last time someone presented me with a local TV report during a big sweeping period like November. “

The concept of scanning began in 1954 when Nielsen began sending weekly news broadcasts to households to indicate which programs they were watching. Originally, newspapers were mailed and collected from homes in the northeast before traveling the country to markets in the west. At the time, there were only a few broadcast stations and usually a TV in the home, which allowed diary keepers to accurately track household listening. For decades, four-week scans were the only ratings available for local TV stations. The stations used sweep ratings to set advertising rates for the following quarter.

Broadcast networks, to help their affiliates, have traditionally used programming stunts to increase ratings during sweeps. In the 1990s, regular programs produced 22 to 24 original shows in a season, 12 of which aired during a three-month scan of the broadcast season. (The end of the May sweeps coincided with the end of the broadcast season, making July sweeps the least important.) As a programming strategy, the networks started each season with five or six original episodes ahead of the sweeps. of November to create momentum and a rendezvous. visualization. As a result, only five to seven original shows aired in December, January, March and April, which to the chagrin of viewers were mostly replete with reruns.

In addition to not showing any reruns, the networks loaded their sweep programs with hit programming (including big-name guest stars). The list of programming stunts broadcast during the sweeps is exhausting. Suffice to say that the best rated mini-series such as Roots and lonely dove and top rated made-for-tv movie The next day all broadcast during scans. The television debuts of successful films such as Star wars and Blown away by the wind both broadcast in the scans. The Winter Olympics were still broadcast in February. General hospital Luke and Laura got married (with a cameo from Elizabeth Taylor) and the Dallas episode of “Who shot JR?” Both aired in November. End-of-season cliffhangers and playoff finals (for example, Cheers, Seinfeld and Friends) were kept for the May sweeps.

Sweep schedule events were also prevalent in other times of the day. At the end of the evening, the finals of Tonight’s Show with Johnny Carson and The Late Show with David Letterman released in May. In syndication the final of The Oprah Winfrey Show also released in May. Even local news broadcasts had increased characteristics for sweeps, such as high-profile investigative reporting. Unsurprisingly, among the many criticisms of the sweeps was the atypical programming that distorted the true audience image of TV channels.

This month, the only comparable lineup hit reminiscent of previous years will be the CBS special, Adele one night only, which includes an interview with Oprah Winfrey and a concert by the singer. The two-hour special airs on November 14 and coincides with the upcoming release of her fourth album “30”.

Marc Berman, alias “Mr. Television” and a colleague Forbes The contributor says: “The sweeps were stupid, the networks over a four week period were chock-full of specials, movies, mini-series and big-name guest stars, but viewers couldn’t watch it all. There is now a fall season and a spring season with replacement mid-season shows, and the TV experience has evaporated. Networks have instead competed with digital.

Mediapost Friedman agrees to add:

FFIV
CEO John Landgraf spoke of 500 or more scripted TV shows broadcast, cable and streaming. These shows now begin at any time of the year – the traditional start of the television season in the fall; mid-season, summer and everything in between. Netflix

NFLX
these days, new programs and movies are added every month.

Slowly, but surely, the importance of sweeps began to erode. As early as 1959, Nielsen began continuously measuring household ratings in New York, the largest television market, using a passive meter. In the years to come, Nielsen gradually rolled out home meters in more than 50 other local television markets covering more than two-thirds of the country. These measured market ratings only measured if the TV was on and what station was tuned to, logs were still needed for demographic ratings. The overnight network television ratings, introduced in 1973, also helped stations gauge the popularity of national (not local) programs the next day.

The Nielsen National People Counter began in 1987 and measured households and demographics on a daily basis. Fifteen years later, in May 2002, the first local population meter to measure household / demographic ratings (replacing news broadcasts) was launched in Boston. Despite some reluctance from the TV channel groups, over the next eight years Nielsen continued to roll out people counters in the local market. As of January 2010, there were people counters providing daily ratings in 25 major TV markets, covering half of the country and 60% of all local TV advertising dollars. As a result, sweeps have become a much smaller factor in the larger television markets.

News broadcasts were still used to measure demographics in the remaining 185 smaller TV markets four months a year. Yet with an average household capable of receiving nearly 200 channels, more TVs than people in most households, and the emergence of the first VCRs followed by digital video recorders, video on demand and streaming video, it had become increasingly clear that news broadcasts (and sweeps) were becoming returns to a bygone era.

As these viewing options multiplied, TV news ratings became less and less reliable. Newspapers were hampered by incorrect programming entries and low respondent participation, especially ethnic groups and young adults. Some advertisers, concerned about instability in ratings, have started using other ad-supported media to replace local television. Other advertisers have negotiated advertising rates with stations using tuning information passively collected from Comscore

SCOR
which relied on return path data from cable / satellite companies and was continuously measured.

In response, Nielsen made several enhancements designed to improve its much-maligned local TV rating service. These included the long-awaited replacement of news broadcasts with a new measurement service, Viewer Assignment. With Viewer Assignment, Nielsen uses the household tuning data of cable / satellite subscribers in the market. For demographic assessments, Nielsen uses algorithms to identify “like” households from their panelists of people counting in the area. The people counter visualization information is then integrated with the setting data of each RPD house. Nielsen’s move to this larger sample with continuous audience measurement was finalized in 2018 and has been applauded by TV stations, advertising companies and advertisers.

Without sweeping, Mediapost ‘s Friedman adds, “Local TV stations have the flexibility to broadcast whatever special programming they have at other times, perhaps to counter-schedule their competitors at different times of the year.

The scans went into the trash of programming strategies where it belongs and no one will miss them.

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