The estimable Wall Street Journal reported recently that television networks occasionally boost their ratings by deliberately, if selectively, misspelling the titles of their shows. This practice is usually used to hide a network show’s poor performance on any given night. For example, NBC re-titled its “NBC Nightly News” as “NBC Nitely News” for its Friday of Memorial Day weekend airing this year, when a huge number of people were away from their televisions. This “fooled Nielsen’s automated system, which listed ‘Nitely’ as a separate show,” according to the Journal. Effectively hiding the May 26th program from Nielson significantly improved the show’s average viewership that week, so, “instead of falling further behind first-place rival ‘ABC World News Tonight,’ the NBC news show actually narrowed the gap.”
ABC complained last month, when NBC intentionally misspelled an entire week of “Nightly News” broadcasts. NBC News said that it didn’t break any rules, stating, “As is standard industry practice, our broadcast is re-titled when there are pre-emptions and inconsistencies or irregularities in the schedule, which can include holiday weekends and special sporting events.” In point of fact, ABC was also guilty of the charade, re-titling its top news show as “Wrld New Tonite” seven times during the 2016-2017 season. CBS cleverly mislabeled “The CBS Evening News” as “The CBS Evening Nws” 12 times in the same season. This is all done, of course, in the interest of higher ratings, which help networks sell commercial airtime at higher rates, increasing their profitability.
The WSJ article quotes Billie Gold, director of programming at advertising powerhouse Dentsu, Inc., as saying: “Networks never used to do this. Now it has become the norm.” Gold and other ad executives are getting frustrated with the work now required to ascertain actual network viewer ratings. In fact, Nielson plans to hold a meeting with TV industry executives to address the issue in the next few days. And re-titling- or misspelling- isn’t the only trick networks use to artificially boost their ratings numbers. CBS claimed that its legal drama “Bull” was the most-watched new show of the recently concluded TV season. Typically, a show’s viewership is calculated using the ratings of both first-run and repeat episodes (that normally have substantially lower ratings), but CBS submitted its schedule to Nielson characterizing its reruns of “Bull” as “encores.” Consequently, the ratings service categorized it as a different show and didn’t factor the reruns into the show’s season average.
Yet another media machination involves the calculated placement of national TV commercials. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” typically loads all of its national commercials in the first hour of the 90-minute show. Since Nielsen counts viewers of a show only through the last network commercial break, the ratings service ignores SNL’s last half-hour, when viewers generally turn away.
Moreover, reads the article, “Sometimes networks sneak in a second airing of a show and add the additional viewers to the tally of the original telecast and hope no one notices.” To this end, NBC in 2015 persuaded almost a dozen of its local TV station affiliates to rerun “Nightly News” after 2 a.m. At the time, NBC said, it was focused “on ways to reach our audience when and how they want to be reached.”
Now tell us the one about the three bears. Talk about fake news! And false advertising.
Through diligent research, I’ve discovered that other networks are using similar ploys to trick advertisers. For example, on more than one occasion MSNBC’s show lineup listed: “The Rachel Madcow Show,” and “Lardball with Chris Matthews.” PBS occasionally retitles one of its venerable, old offerings as “Washington Leak in Review.” (Actually quite apropos today).
And then there is CNN. Its ratings were so bad for a time that it actually retitled the networks acronym, going by DNN during particularly difficult ratings periods. It has also offered shows temporarily labeled, “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzen,” “Anderson Pooper 360°,” “Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Are Unknown,” and “CNN FakeNewsroom.”
The mainstream media goes nuts if businesses, advertisers, or Republicans are ever anything but completely above-board, ethical and transparent in their endeavors. Yet, hiding and deliberately mislabeling their own shows is simply “standard industry practice.” Amazing.
Speaking of transparency, two of the three previous paragraphs are fake news. I made them up as parody. But, while they may not be factual, and may be biased, some will find them humorous. Just like CNN.
The difference? CNN wouldn’t admit any of that.