Nets Rip Nielsen’s ‘Total Programming Day’

As part of an ongoing brouhaha, a group of cable programmers this week voiced their concerns to Nielsen Media Research about the way networks are being ranked in the ratings based on their own definition of what their “day” is.

In a letter to the ratings company, 10 cable research chiefs -- from outfits including ABC Cable Networks Group, Court TV, Turner Broadcasting System Inc., ESPN, NBC Universal, Lifetime Television and Discovery Networks U.S. -- raised the issue of Nielsen purportedly “redefining” a traditional daypart, namely total day.

The letter is the latest chapter in a dispute that started earlier this year when Nielsen, at the request of MTV Networks, began breaking out ratings separately for Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite, Nick’s nighttime block of old sitcoms aimed at adults.

In July, Nielsen agreed with the cable programmers that in order to be ranked in a “consistently” defined daypart, like primetime, a cable network has to run programming during at least 51% of that daypart. This meant that Nick would no longer be listed in primetime cable rankings.

But Nielsen came up with different criteria for total day. The ratings company changed the name for that daypart to “total programming day” and essentially said cable networks are free to define what they consider their “day” of programming to be. That decision was unsatisfactory to the cable programmers that signed this week’s letter.

“Redefining traditional dayparts is not an action we suggested, nor is it one we take lightly,” the letter said. “We will be closely monitoring the use of the rules and conditions for networks making claims about ‘total programming day.’”

The cable research chiefs fear that ads comparing ratings for partial-day networks and full-day networks will create misleading impressions about the strength of the part-time channels.

“[Nielsen has] now told us total day doesn’t exist, they’re going to call it total programming day, which may be fine, but it may be that it’s very easily abused if Nielsen doesn’t monitor how people use it,” said Darren Campo, Court TV’s senior vice president of programming strategy and research. “We don’t know … now you’ve opened another can of worms, potentially.”