Expanding primetime?

Viacom cablers push for redefinition

NEW YORK — MTV, Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite and their sister networks are drawing up a plan that would push Nielsen to change the way it defines primetime for cable networks.

Spearheaded by Betsy Frank, exec VP of research and planning for MTV Networks, the blueprint proposes expanding ad-supported cable’s primetime from the current 8-11 p.m. to 6 p.m.-midnight. The broadcast nets would continue to operate under the 8-11 schedule.

Rationale for the change, Frank said, is that “cable networks have to fill their schedules on a 24/7 basic across all dayparts.”

Unlike the broadcast nets, which stuff their primetime lineups with the most expensive and highly touted shows, cable networks have carved out a number of dayparts outside of primetime that often harvest more viewers than the 8-11 p.m. hours.

Examples include “Law & Order” reruns on TNT at 7, “JAG” reruns on USA at 7, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block that begins at 11 p.m., TBS’ reruns of “Seinfeld” at 7 and “Friends” at 7:30, Nick at Nite’s “Full House” reruns at 11 and “The Howard Stern Show” on E! at 11.

Frank’s proposal grew out of a decision by Nielsen 10 days ago that laid down the following rule: For a network to be counted in the primetime rankings printed out every week, it has to program at least 51% of the 8-11 timeslot.

At first glance, the ruling appeared to hurt Nickelodeon by forcing its removal from the primetime rankings because it programs only the 8-9 p.m. slot, well below the 51% benchmark.

But Frank said there’s no damage at all because Nick at Nite (which programs 9-11 p.m.) now will get its due as a standalone network.

“Ad agency data systems couldn’t break out Nick at Nite’s primetime from the Nielsen tape,” Frank said. “The result is that Nick at Nite had a visibility and credibility problem.”

With Nielsen’s new definition of primetime, Nick at Nite will go into the weekly primetime rankings on its own. “What Nielsen has done is to allow us to elevate Nick at Nite as an adult delivery vehicle,” she said.

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