Nielsen syndie yardstick sync up

It’s been a year since Nielsen changed the way it rated syndicated programs so that all airings of a show are counted in its average audience rating no matter how many times a viewer watches the show in a single day.

That methodology formerly was referred to as the gross average audience (GAA) rating, and it’s always been the number that syndicated advertising salespeople used to sell their shows. Until last April, however, most media reported syndicated ratings using the average audience methodology (AA), which included only a single viewing of a show per day. That way, shows that didn’t have multiple runs — such as “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!,” “Rachael Ray,” and “Ellen” — weren’t unfairly compared with shows that did.

Now that Nielsen counts all of a show’s runs, the reported ratings for some shows — particularly CBS Television Distribution’s “Judge Judy” — have risen significantly. Under last year’s AA method, “Judy” averaged a 4.3 live-plus-same-day household rating in the week ended March 27, 2011, the last week of the old system. When the ratings changed to include all runs in the week ended April 3, 2011, “Judy’s” ratings shot up to a 7.0, a 53% increase.

With the new ratings system in place for more than a year, year-to-year comparisons are apples to apples again, and “Judy” is down 4% to a 6.7 in the week ended April 1, compared with the 7.0 it earned in the same week a year ago.

CTD’s “Judge Joe Brown” is in a similar situation. At a 2.7 household rating in the week ended April 1, “Judge Joe” is up 42% compared with the 1.9 it earned in the week ended March 27, 2011, the final week in which Nielsen used the old method. Compared with the week ended April 3, 2011, however, “Judge Joe” is down 7%.

Courtshows and off-net sitcoms have been the biggest beneficiaries of this false ratings bump, since those are the formats in which different episodes are commonly aired twice a day.

Warner Bros.’ “Two and a Half Men” is up 9% this year to last under the old ratings system, jumping from a 5.4 AA rating in 2011 to a 5.9 this year. However, “Men’s” ratings decline significantly with the switch, dropping 20% from a 7.4 under the old system to a 5.9 this year. Similarly, Twentieth’s “Family Guy” is up 22% year-to-year under the old measure, but down 9% now that the system has caught up with itself.

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