Nielsen nixes Nick’s split personality

Org ends experiment of listing cablers separately

NEW YORK — Hell-bent on resolving a skirmish between Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite and its cable network rivals, Nielsen issued a decision Friday with which nobody was completely happy.

The immediate effect of the Nielsen ruling is that the research giant will end its three-month experiment of listing Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite separately in primetime even though they’re two halves of the same network.

That listing strategy irked cable nets such as TNT, Lifetime, USA, ESPN and A&E because Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite each finished near the top in primetime among total viewers and key demographic categories week after week, shoving Nick’s network competitors down a slot or two in the rankings.

Nick’s rivals tried to make the best of it. When he released his data to the industry every week, Jack Wakshlag, head of research for TNT, TBS, Cartoon and other Turner networks, ended up pulling Nickelodeon out of the ranking and squeezing it in at the bottom of the list in all the total-viewer and demographic categories. Rather than clearing up the confusion, Wakshlag’s blueprint only added to it.

After a two-month buildup of irritation, Wakshlag and 10 other cable-network research execs urged Nielsen in a June 16 letter to stop kowtowing to Nickelodeon and create fairer guidelines. Failure to make these changes, the letter said, “will only contribute to a growing mistrust of Nielsen by its clients, the press and ultimately the public.”

The Friday release of Nielsen’s new policy at least answered the primetime part of Wakshlag’s complaint: For a network to be listed in the primetime rankings, it must program at least 51% of the time period (Monday through Sunday, 8-11 p.m.).

That ruling pitchforks Nickelodeon out of primetime because it programs only 8-9 p.m., or one-third of the timeslot, on average. So the new primetime measurements will attach Nickelodeon’s numbers to those of Nick at Nite and report one primetime number instead of two, giving some relief to Wakshlag and his allies.

But with total-day, which Nielsen has renamed total programming day, the policy is “inconsistent,” Wakshlag told Daily Variety. “At best it’s confusing, and at worst it’s misleading.”

What has ignited Wakshlag’s frustration is that there are no meaningful percentage restrictions on what constitutes the total programming day. Without those restrictions, a network can pump up its numbers by adding more infomercials — which are not counted in the ratings — to its schedule in dayparts when almost nobody is watching TV, like the wee hours of the morning.

But most cable nets don’t sell the total-day numbers on Madison Avenue; they sell specific dayparts, everything from TLC’s daytime block of dating/wedding/baby programming to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim latenight block of animated shows aimed at young men.

And, as in primetime, to merit a ranking in any of these dayparts, a network must schedule programming in at least 51% of the timeslots.

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