February sweeps has come and gone, leaving syndicated strips with some major bragging rights, starting with CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil, which won its first sweep in the show’s 10- year history. All of the entertainment magazines were up this year compared to last, driven by coverage of Hollywood’s biggest awards shows and the untimely death of pop diva Whitney Houston.
But the question amid the good numbers remains: Do sweeps still matter?
Yes and no, say analysts, syndicators and station managers. It all depends on where you are located and who your target audience is.
For syndicators and TV stations in Nielsen’s local people meter (LPM) markets, sweeps lost its cachet a few years ago when LPMs started providing daily measurements of how every program was performing among every relevant demographic.
“Sweeps aren’t as important as they once were,” says Jerry del Core, general manager of Tribune Fox affiliate KTXL Sacramento. “The meters are always on, so we have to be always on.”
“Every single day for us is a sweep,” says Jim Burke, president of sales for Fox Television Stations, which has LPMs in all of its markets except two, Memphis and Austin, Texas. “Approximately 95% of our revenue and profit is based off a currency created by LPMs, focusing on demographics.”
In syndication, just like all of television, advertising is sold based on demographic performance— particularly women 25-54 in daytime and adults 25-54 as programs head into access and late-fringe time periods. LPMs give TV stations a daily assessment of how they are performing in those measures.
For syndicators, like it or not, what matters most for the survival of any series is its performance in markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“We are being judged on our performance in the major markets,” says one syndicator. “If we don’t get renewed in the major markets, it doesn’t matter anywhere else. On the flip side, if we do well in the major markets but poorly in the rest of the country, those smaller markets are still stuck with us.”
And for markets that are not measured by local people meters—which is still the majority of them—sweeps remains important.
“Of the 56 metered markets, only 25 get demographic ratings overnight. Local advertisers [in other markets] still need that information,” says Mitch Burg, president of the Syndication Network Television Association. “Local advertisers only care about local ratings. Without sweeps, many local markets wouldn’t have that information. Nationally, we are much further ahead.”
In markets without LPMs, a few select viewers still tell Nielsen what they watched by filling out diaries. It’s a means of gathering information that seems archaic in today’s age of technology, but rolling out LPMs in every market nationwide costs more than Nielsen subscribers want to pay.
There also remains viewer anticipation around sweeps, whether they are less important than they once were or not.
Says Burg: “Even though viewers don’t understand sweeps per se, they do feel that they are getting better programming during sweeps, so they get excited and tune in.”
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