Nielsen Rethinking "Heroes" Flub

So we’re just one week into the Fall TV season, and we get another example of how seemingly wonky changes in TV ratings can have big implications (I wrote a quick take on one upshot of the new commercial ratings in last week’s issue). Earlier this week NBC tried a cheap stunt to boost ratings for Heroes. After an resounding outcry, Nielsen is now telling us its “rethinking” the rule that allowed it, though it’s not elaborating at this time.

The rule NBC took advantage of states that if a showing includes exactly the same commercials and content, but is viewed at some other time or on some other medium, it can be counted into the original rating. The idea was to plan for a future when we don’t all watch shows on TV necessarily. But NBC cleverly decided to follow the rule in a different way and run the Heroes premier and all the Nissan ads that came with it this Saturday night on top of Monday night. Bonus— a double-rating! The second bonus was that it helped NBC’s average primetime rating for the week, since Saturday is one of the lowest-rated nights. That’s like the nerdy friend you had who figured out some cheap way to beat you in video games by taking advantage of a glitch in the game (I still remember the guy who wouldn’t stop using Scorpion’s harpoon move in Mortal Kombat. I hated that guy!).

Even though everyone had agreed to it before, this had the other networks mad, for obvious ego reasons. Advertisers are up in arms about it too. Media planners closely monitor the ratings positions of every show, every night of the week as they place on where to advertise. “You can’t assess the competitive landscape!” one media agency insider told me. “Advertisers are livid.”

Now it sounds like this won’t happen again (it was a pretty unique situation anyway, enabled by the fact that the premiere of Heroes had only one sponsor, Nissan). But it’s clear that though everybody has agreed to modernize the ratings process, the controversy is nowhere near over.

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