Nielsen Media Research executives apologized to their network and cable customers last week after suffering through what amounts to a ratings power outage.
After Fox and CBS executives noticed that daytime and prime time ratings on Sunday, April 8, seemed out of whack, Nielsen stopped releasing most cable and broadcast ratings until late into the week.
The culprit was Nielsen's mainframe computer, which went through some routine maintenance work on the same day. When Nielsen technicians put the computer back online, they failed to factor in daylight-saving time and, thus, crossed up national and metered market data.
Some ratings appeared to be altered by an hour; some just appeared out of "right field," network researchers said.
Fox, for example, called Nielsen after noticing unusually low ratings for an original episode of The X-Files. "Everything about Sunday's figures seemed off," a Fox spokesman said. Nielsen's Monday morning figures had The X-Files at a 5.2 rating/13 share in households, well off its season average of an 8.5/18.
Because of the glitch, by last Thursday afternoon, Nielsen still hadn't released its national broadcast ratings for April 2-8. Usually, those numbers are released on Tuesday.
"We made a mistake; actually, we made a series of mistakes in processing Sunday's data," said Jack Loftus, Nielsen Media Research's vice president of communications. "And it was compounded when we released data that should not have been released because it was wrong. We realize that we let a lot of people down, especially CBS. It was a terrible time to have this happen, and I just wish it didn't happen, but it did."
For whatever reason, the networks took a pass at bashing Nielsen while it was down. "Obviously, we're disappointed" about the glitch, one CBS spokesman allowed.
For CBS, the Nielsen delays were extremely painful because the network was coming off The Masters with Tiger Woods leading the charge. The network put out press releases on April 9 claiming the golf tournament scored its second-highest ratings ever with some 40 million-plus viewers tuning in.
Later that day, CBS Sports recalled the figures after being notified by Nielsen that the data was not totally accurate. CBS was also forced to recall its weekly national ratings press release, which touted victories in both adults 18-49 and total viewers for the week of April 2-8.
While most of the broadcast networks had received normal overnight ratings service by April 10, a handful of top cable networks said they were not given any ratings data until April 12. Spokesmen for USA Network and FX said both networks were left with only data through April 6 for nearly a week.
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