The Law of Unintended Consequences

You  might think that the fact that I have a TV in my office is proof that I am a little addicted was always destined for a place called TV Bacon. Actually, my office television is only ever activated for one of two purposes: some kind of ghastly breaking news or the first two days of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The latter is by far the more important of the two–I’ve got multiple brackets cooking and carefully calibrated travel time between work and home so as to avoid missing hoops and it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

So why are the other networks harshing my hardwood buzz by showing original programming tonight (or, to be more cold-blooded, why are they undercutting their own audience numbers by going up against this once-a-year phenomenon)? Unintended consequences rearing their ugly heads. If you watch enough TV to care about reading us, you may have heard a little about the digital conversion Congress is requiring. The roiling economy has driven them to delay the conversion deadline, although many stations have already gone forward. In the midst of all of this chaos, the Nielsen company decided to push their normal early sweeps period, during which the viewership numbers that set advertising rates are determined, from their typical February to March. Sweeps=new programming and stunts designed to inflate the viewership numbers. So March sweeps means increasingly desperate networks throwing new episodes of popular shows out as counterprogramming to the NCAA tournament.

There are lots of questions you could ask about this–Nielsen ratings are reported for every day; why do sweeps still matter? Nielsen hasn’t yet figured out how to deal with any part of the digital revolution (although they are trying), so why bend to their will anyway? If you ran a non-CBS network, why wouldn’t you choose not to throw yourself on the spears of the NCAA tournament and make your own argument to advertisers (I mean, c’mon, NBC–can you look any worse than you already do?)? The upshot, though, is that someone’s taking a hit tonight that can be traced all the way back to the digital conversion–we’re guessing #1 seed CBS is going to move through this bracket.

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2 thoughts on “The Law of Unintended Consequences

  1. If Nielsen is not going to figure out how to deal with the digital transition, I agree that TV networks shouldn’t care about them operate based on their preferences. Being an old fan of NBC, I have not been glad to see them do down in ratings, but Law & Order:SVU and Jay leno may be the only programs worth watching before Friday. Now when it comes to the weekend, Friday Night Lights is an entertaining show.

    If I had my own network, I would be pulling out all of the stops to make a case for my network all year long and especially during the “sweeps” period.

    Nice post.

  2. Isn’t it crazy to think about what NBC used to be? They have exactly one show in the Top 20 Nielsen ratings now: Sunday Night NFL Football. A far cry from their utter dominance in Thursday night comedies, isn’t it? It’s just plain sad.

    I suspect they just don’t know how to pull out the stops anymore. I freely admit I started the Battlestar Galactica finale 20 minutes late tonight so I could fast-forward through the commercials and get their last story uninterrupted–Nielsen ratings are meaningless in a case like that. They’re adapting very slowly, though.

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