Subscribe To TV Networks Are Purposely Misspelling Names To Avoid Bad Nielsen Ratings Updates
The TV ratings game is incredibly important to networks, as the numbers can either encourage or discourage advertisers from buying commercial time during airings. Now, it seems that networks have found a way to prevent predictable ratings drops. Networks have been known to misspell the names of their shows on nights that are sure to be slow so that low ratings won't affect overall ratings averages.
It's surprisingly simple to impact overall ratings in the Nielsen system with misspelled names. When programmers know that viewership is likely to be low, they simply spell the name of shows wrong. The automated Nielsen system counts the misspelled shows as entirely different series, and so the numbers--high or low--won't have any impact on the averages. Of course, it's impossible to know with absolute certainty what nights will and will not be slow for the small screen, but holidays and days featuring big sporting events like the World Series and the NBA finals tend not to result in very high ratings. Educated guesses are perfectly possible.
NBC actually used the trick over the Memorial Day weekend. An episode of NBC Nightly News aired on the Friday as usual, but it was listed by a different name for Nielsen. Yes, viewers were actually tuning in for NBC Nitely News. Thanks to the misspelling, NBC gained a ratings edge against ABC World News Tonight, which is Nightly News' main competitor. ABC World Tonight did not air as ABC Wold Tonight or ABC World Tonite on that particular occasion, and so it suffered through the holiday ratings dip.
That said, the retitling tactic doesn't go against Nielsen protocol. Knowing that holidays and sporting events affect ratings all across the board, Nielsen allows networks to retitle their shows so that outlier low ratings won't negatively impact overall numbers. The problem arises for Nielsen when networks retitle their shows on regular low-rated days to skew the ratings, and the Peacock Network is a repeat offender when it comes to the misspelling. NBC has misspelled the names of its shows 14 times in the 2016-2017 TV season.
Nielsen reportedly isn't happy about it, and the method of beating the ratings system on non-special event dates may not work forever. The Wall Street Journal reports that advertisers have caught on to what the certain networks are doing, and they're not too happy that they're investing in false numbers. We'll have to wait and see if pressure from advertisers and/or Nielsen motivates programmers like those at NBC to suddenly remember to double-check their spelling. Only time will tell.
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