Local People Meters Arrive: Will They End Sweeps or Make It Last All Year Long?
Like many TV critics across the country, I've been hoping that the spread of Local People Meter technology -- a new way of counting TV ratings by the company which controls it all, Nielsen Media Research -- would end the practice of herding all the best programming into four months out of the year, known as "sweeps months." See my story from today's Floridian here.
Because demographic ratings for local TV stations (who is watching each show) used to be compiled only four times a year, networks would pile on miniseries and special guest appearances by movie stars. Locally, I remember seeing one reporter park a Ryder truck near a federal building in Tampa at the start of the Oklahoma City bomber trial for one sweeps story on WTVT-Ch. 13.
Another, which never aired, involved WTSP-Ch. 10 having a self defense expert surprise attack a reporter, then send her through self defense training, then surprise attack her again. Two reporters got hurt doing this boneheaded piece -- and I wrote scathing stories about it -- before the station would lay off. The news executive and reporter involved are both no longer with the station.
But today, Nielsen brings a new dawn to the 10-county, Tampa Bay area market. Using new technology which electronically records what people are watching -- viewers in sample households push a button to let the machine know they are in the room watching the television -- stations will have access to demographic ratings EVERY DAY, straight from the company's huge processing center in Oldsmar.
What I'm hearing from my friends in the local TV industry, is that stations are mostly extending sweeps from November to today, at least in the short term -- trying to juice their ratings for the next two months, so they can go to advertisers with a healthy trend.
Average viewers probably won't notice a difference, except maybe a few more promos on each station. But behind the scenes, experts expect market leaders such as WFLA and WTVT to take a hit in ratings, while cable outlets with smaller viewership such as Bay News 9 will see increases. The local stations have seen test data since July, but can't talk about it until today, when the new ratings become the law of the land.
And by 2011, Nielsen expects to bring this technology to 70 percent of the nation's TV households. then we'll see how hard old sweeps habits die, for sure
Should be an interesting ride...