Nielsen Media Research was in full damage control mode Wednesday as the primetime network ratings were held hostage for a third day in a row.
Patient network execs — who are accustomed to Nielsen ratings delays, which usually take place around long holiday weekends — had nonetheless grown impatient as they woke up to yet another day without any numbers.
“It makes you really wonder, though, about the validity of anything they put out,” huffed one network exec, who sarcastically added, “I love it. It’s like a vacation.”
The delays come at an inopportune time for the nets, which are slicing and dicing every bit of data in order to make some tough decisions on which bubble shows to bring back next fall and which ones to let fade away.
It’s likely particularly frustrating for creatives at shows like ABC sitcom “Better Off Ted,” which aired its season finale Tuesday night — yet a day later, the network and those behind the show had no idea how the episode performed.
“Ted” has already been hit by a spate of bad luck — including President Obama’s decision to hold a press conference in its timeslot on April 29, forcing ABC to move the show’s season finale to Tuesday. Before that, another Obama TV event forced Fox to move an “American Idol” episode smack against “Ted’s” premiere episode.
As a result of this week’s delay, the networks are likely to again dust off complaints that they’re hamstrung by the Nielsen monopoly. Several attempts have been made through the years to launch a competitive ratings service to Nielsen, but those have mostly come up short. The most viable competitor at the moment appears to be TiVo, which has been collecting national ratings for 93 broadcast and cable networks since 2007 — and recently announced plans to do the same in local markets.
Nielsen blamed the delay on a computer bug, which caused the server malfunction and prevented the Sunday night ratings from being properly reported. That, like dominoes, led to delays with Monday’s and Tuesday’s ratings as well.
“We wanted to make sure the data we were going to put out subsequently was correct, which caused a further delay,” said Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes. “The data itself is accurate. We recognize the inconvenience to our clients, and we’re working as hard as we can to get the ratings out as soon as we can.”
Nielsen finally released the Sunday numbers by midday Wednesday — allowing the nets to report their weekly ratings. Monday and Tuesday ratings are expected to be released this morning, with the Wednesday numbers coming later.
“We hope to be caught up as soon as we can,” Holmes said. “We take this very seriously and try our best to get the ratings out on time.”
Holmes said it’s too soon to deduce what the lessons are from this malfunction — and how it may be avoided in the future.
“Every time there’s a glitch like this, we do a post-mortem to figure out what we’ve learned and apply it,” he said.