It’s gonna be a long summer: Nielsen is expected to announce today that the 2000-01 TV season will kick off on Oct. 2, two weeks later than usual.
That’s just one day after the Summer Olympics Closing Ceremonies on NBC, which keeps the entire 18 days of the Games out of next season’s ratings books. Nielsen’s decision is sure to ruffle some Peacock feathers.
“I just feel it’s so arbitrary,” NBC Entertainment prexy Garth Ancier said. “If the season always starts every other year during the last week of September, why wouldn’t you use that as the marking post of the new season? It’s just an odd decision to wait until the day after the Olympics end.”
Nielsen made the decision after determining when all four major networks planned to launch regular programming.
The Nielsen announcement is a victory for execs at ABC, CBS and Fox, who lobbied hard to keep NBC’s coverage of the Olympics out of the season’s ratings. The three nets argued that the season should start when the bulk of new and returning programs premiere.
“Obviously that won’t happen during the two weeks of the Olympics,” David Poltrack, CBS research/planning exec VP, said. “When conditions result in the inability of the networks to launch their new seasons in September, it makes sense to move the date. It’s the logical thing to do.”
NBC execs, however, argue they’re being penalized just because the Summer Olympics, which air from Sept. 15 to Oct. 1, spill into fall. Ancier noted that the Winter Olympics, which fall in February, are always counted, as are big-ticket events such as the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards.
But Poltrack argued that it would be disruptive to halt ratings in the middle of the season and that the nets still counterprogram the Winter Olympics somewhat. Plus, numbers from annual events like the Super Bowl are much more informative to advertisers (who use year-to-year comparisons to set prices) than numbers from the Olympics, which only air every four years.
With three networks for the change and one against, majority ruled at Nielsen, which every year sets the season start and end date with input from the networks.
“They are the official scorekeepers,” Poltrack said.
It wasn’t always that way. In 1988, when the Summer Olympics last fell in September, Nielsen didn’t set the season parameters and the networks didn’t come up with any consensus. As a result, NBC went through the year with one set of season-to-date numbers (which included the Summer Olympics) while ABC and CBS reported another set of numbers (which didn’t).
Until the late 1980s, Daily Variety reporter Bob Knight set the start date for fall, after determining when the networks planned to launch their new and returning shows.