Who's the Villain Here? NBC's 'Heroes' Ratings Ploy Ignites a Battle

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Caving in to pressure from non-NBC broadcast networks and ad-buying agencies, ratings monopoly Nielsen Media Research dumped its "new processing option" that had allowed NBC to combine the Monday and Saturday audiences on its returning series "Heroes" during Premiere Week.

But Nielsen so far has been unwilling to reissue separate ratings for those two plays of the "Heroes" second-season debut, saying "NBC's actions were completely consistent with Nielsen reporting policy" at that time.

The non-NBC broadcast networks have put on a full-court press to get Nielsen to issue the actual ratings for both of the Premiere Week broadcasts of the episode, and to restore to NBC's Premiere Week Saturday night average the "Heroes" ratings for that night.

We're calling it the Free the "Heroes 2" campaign.

Right now, the only "Heroes" Premiere Week numbers Nielsen has released to NBC's competitors are the set of stats that combined unduplicated viewing of the Sept. 24 season debut and the rerun five days later. Those combined stats are assigned to the Monday broadcast.

That inflated NBC's Monday average that week and its Saturday average as well, because it does not include the "Heroes" repeat -- NBC's least-watched hour of prime time that week, according to early stats.

This enabled NBC to claim it tied ABC for first place among the 18-to-49-year-old viewers all the broadcast networks target during the first week of the new TV season.

During a regularly scheduled conference call with Nielsen yesterday to discuss policy guidelines, the dumping of "New Processing Option" and Free the "H2" were the first topics of conversation, with reps of the non-NBC broadcast networks saying Nielsen should reissue the stats.

Back in late August, Nielsen officially unveiled its "new processing option" allowing a broadcast network to cume the unduplicated viewers from two broadcasts of a single episode within a calendar week, Monday through Sunday, if the rerun had the same national ads as the original broadcast. NBC, which had sold the season debut of "Heroes" to a single sponsor for both the Monday and Saturday telecasts, took advantage of Nielsen's option.

"NBC's actions were completely consistent with Nielsen reporting policy," Nielsen said in its Never Mind About New Processing Option announcement issued Tuesday.

"However, as a result, Nielsen received a significant amount of feedback from its clients in which concern was expressed regarding the consequences of this processing change," the number-crunching company said.

"Clients told us that it was essential for the ratings to the individual telecasts to remain available so that viewing to each telecast can be analyzed separately and to ensure there is no ratings gap in any time period."

In other words, the other networks -- and some ad buyers -- complained that, as things stand now, they are unable to assess NBC's actual performance on Monday at 9, or their own shows' performance relative to "Heroes" in that time period. Ditto Saturday at 8.

Which, apparently, was news to Nielsen.

Meanwhile, one of the disadvantages of cuming your Premiere Week Monday and Saturday broadcasts of "Heroes" and reporting that as the Monday performance is that your next-week numbers are going to look very bad by comparison.

In this case, the Monday "Heroes" plunged by 30 percent among viewers of all ages and by 25 percent in the 18-49 age bracket.

This enables us to claim that among returning series, "Heroes" is the biggest ratings bust this season, from its first week to its second.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company