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Nielsen Reconsidering Ratings Processing Change

Nielsen is re-examining a processing change introduced just days ago that lets networks report multiple airings of the same show (if it runs with identical commercial content) as one rating.

Controversy was spurred earlier this week by NBC's decision to rerun Monday's season premiere of Heroes on Saturday. The processing change (which calculates a nonduplicative accumulated rating) means that any official rating for the show will not be available from Nielsen until Tuesday, when final weekly numbers are released.

But even more advantageous, critics said, is that NBC will have the opportunity to essentially eliminate a Saturday-night hour, which, even considering the popularity of Heroes, will likely be one of the lowest-rated hours of the week.

NBC’s use (or abuse) of the processing change generated a firestorm of criticism from rival networks and ad buyers.

Nielsen said the new data stream was meant to normalize ratings at a time when new technologies and a growing number of digital platforms such as subchannels are drastically changing viewer patterns.

While stressing that NBC did nothing wrong, Nielsen spokeswoman Anne Elliot said: “We are certainly listening to all of the feedback we’ve gotten from our clients, and we will review that information and determine whether or not we should change our policy.”

Elliot would not put a timeline on when a change, if any, might come, but numerous network sources said they expect an adjustment from Nielsen as soon as this week.

“I’m not going to blame NBC,” said an executive at a rival network. “What we’ve been saying to Nielsen is that NBC has every right [to do what they did]. But for the industry, they need to keep producing program ratings every night so that everyone can keep doing their job. It’s not an attack on NBC.”