The kids who watch Nickelodeon and the adults who watch Nick at Nite are not going to be smushed together any more in the Nielsen ratings.
Betsy Frank, executive VP of research and planning for MTV Networks, said Nick at Nite’s post-9 p.m. schedule will spin off from the Nickelodeon mothership and become its own Nielsen-rated network, although the two services will continue to share the same dial position.
Nick at Nite’s competitors immediately started sounding the alarms. Tim Brooks, senior VP of research for Lifetime, said, “This new reporting of the ratings will muddy the waters considerably because it will end up comparing Nick at Nite, which runs for only nine hours a day, with networks like TBS, TNT and Lifetime, which go for 24 hours.”
“This setup will be confusing at best, and misleading at worst,” added Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for the Turner Broadcasting Networks. “TNT programs 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” compared to Nick at Nite’s lineup, which runs from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Both Brooks and Wakshlag said they will scrutinize very carefully any trade ads Nickelodeon puts out starting Monday, when Nielsen begins breaking out Nick at Nite separately. If they become convinced that Nick at Nite is making itself look good at the expense of its 24-hour rivals by “comparing apples and oranges,” as Brooks puts it, the competitors will speed-dial the authorities at Nielsen Media Research.
If Nielsen agrees with the complaints, Brooks said, it could force Nick at Nite to clear any future ads or press releases with the ratings authority, which could impose two- or three-day delays on getting the story out.
Frank stressed that the Nielsen shift is a business decision, aimed at making it easier for advertisers to assess the performances of Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite and their distinct demos, putting each in the best possible light.
“MTV Networks’ philosophy is to super-serve specific targeted audience, and having Nick at Nite reported with Nickelodeon has obscured the actual appeal each network has to its respective adult and kid demo,” Frank said. “The current Nielsen data don’t reflect their true audience delivery, particularly Nick at Nite’s strength during latenight hours.”
Frank said she has spent at least a year researching the feasibility of the split between the networks before informing Nielsen of its decision.
But it’s numbers like the following that may raise a ruckus from Wakshlag and Brooks. Had the split started Jan. 1, Franks said Nickelodeon would remain No. 1 in total day in the first-quarter season to date with 2.1 million total viewers, followed by Nick at Nite, which would unseat TNT, 1.4 million total viewers to 1.3 million.
Among adults 18-49, TNT would continue to lead with 661,000 viewers, ahead of Nick at Nite’s 636,000. TBS would fall to third with 613,000.
Reverberations will be biggest in primetime. Were the split in place, Nickelodeon, even with its truncated primetime programming hours (8 to 9, Sunday through Thursday; 8 to 10 Friday and Saturday) would leap into first with 2.7 million viewers. While kidcentric Nick has no plans to pursue a primetime agenda, split would effectively upend USA and TNT’s rankings. Pair would drop into second and third, respectively, with roughly 2.4 million viewers apiece. Nick at Nite would place fourth with 2 million total viewers.
In adults 18-49, split would push Nick at Nite up to eighth, from 11th place, while Nickelodeon would drop down to 14th.
While unprecedented, change in reporting is actually a return to history as both nets were separately accounted for in the early days of cable until 1989. Although both nets share same dial space, they exist separately in the corporate family, with their own management, staff, programmers and ad sales teams. Nick at Nite falls under the purview of Larry Jones, who also heads up TV Land, while Nickelodeon Television is overseen by prexy Cyma Zarghami.
Frank explained that the segregation of the two networks also gives validity to the increasing importance of the latenight hours. “Our hope,” she said, “is that this will elevate the recognition of latenight and post-midnight viewing and Nick at Nite as an adult-delivery vehicle.”