Nielsen Surprise: Network Ratings May Be Higher Than They Appear

The season debut of
The season debut of "Heroes" (with Masi Oka and David Anders) will be rerun Saturday, which will result in a higher Nielsen rating. (By Paul Drinkwater -- Nbc)

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By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, September 27, 2007

One day into the new television season, all hell broke loose in Hollywood over a change in ratings calculations by Nielsen Media Research.

It all started with NBC's second-season debut of "Heroes" on Monday. Did you see NBC's second-season debut of "Heroes"? Well, technically, it's not finished airing yet. NBC will rerun that very episode on Saturday. And because it will have the exact same national commercials -- Nissan was/is the episode's sole sponsor -- Nielsen will take the new Saturday viewers, add them to the show's Monday average and give the Monday "Heroes" a brand-spanking-new rating.

Meanwhile, the Saturday "Heroes" broadcast will vanish in the Land of Nielsen. In fact, Saturday at 8 p.m. on NBC will not exist for this, Premiere Week of the 2007-08 TV season.

Remember how last fall NBC announced its "NBC 2.0" initiative, in which the network said it would broadcast low-cost reality programming in the 8 p.m. hour across the week because the economics of its 8 o'clock ratings didn't merit spending the big bucks on scripted programming?

This is way better.

And it gets better still. Those Saturday "Heroes" viewers also will be used to refigure the network's average for the whole of Monday night.

And with Saturday, NBC's lowest-rated night of the week, now one hour shorter, that, too, will help goose NBC's weekly average for the kickoff week of the season.

And there's more!

Had NBC opted to rerun the "Heroes" season debut with the same Nissan ads on, say, its Sci Fi cable channel, those Sci Fi viewers also would be added to "Heroes" Monday average on NBC, NBC's average for all of Monday night and its average for Premiere Week.

Now, before you roast a peacock in effigy, let's make one thing perfectly clear: NBC is doing nothing out of bounds here. Over the summer, TV ratings wrangler Nielsen let the broadcast networks know about this "new processing option."

Network number crunchers who received the word from Nielsen notified their bosses, whose eyes glazed over. (Except, it would appear, at NBC.) Nielsen folks note this model is not unlike the way Nielsen processes ratings for syndicated programming.

With one important distinction.

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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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