REPORT: Mainstream media cheating Nielsen ratings system for profit

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In a ruse largely sanctioned by TV-ratings firm Nielsen, television networks attempt to hide the poor performances of their broadcasts on any given night by misspelling the names of their shows.

“NBC Nitely News,” apparently aired on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend this year, when many people were away from their televisions. The retitling of “NBC Nightly News” duped Nielsen’s automated system, which categorized “Nitely” as a separate show.

Disguising the May 26 news broadcast significantly improved the show’s average viewership that week, allowing it to move closer in the Nielsen ratings to its first-place rival, “ABC World News Tonight.”

Although ABC declined to comment, they complained in June when NBC News intentionally misspelled a full week of “Nightly News” broadcasts. Since the start of the television season last fall, NBC has misspelled the name of shows 14 times.

NBC News claimed it did no wrong. “As is standard industry practice, our broadcast is retitled when there are pre-emptions and inconsistencies or irregularities in the schedule, which can include holiday weekends and special sporting events,” a spokesman for the show said.

ABC misspelled names of its major news broadcast on seven occasions during the 2016-17 season, using the title “Wrld New Tonite.” CBS retitled “The CBS Evening News” as the “CBS Evening Nws” 12 times this season.

“It’s a little bit of gamesmanship,” said Bill Carroll, a veteran TV industry consultant. “It’s a practice that happens with a wink and a nod.”

Nielsen projects viewer ratings based on data from more than 40,000 homes and 100,000 people. Higher ratings allow networks to sell commercial time at higher rates. The network misspellings alter that calculation, and some advertisers contend that the tactic is becoming overused.

Facing increasing complaints, Nielsen plans to host a meeting next week with TV industry representatives regarding the issue.

“If we find a network working in contrast to this agreed-upon policy, we address the issue in a direct fashion as a way to maintain fairness and balance for all of our clients and the industry as a whole,” Nielsen said.

This report was originally published by the Wall Street Journal.

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