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WCVB Boston: Skewed Ratings Warrant Bigger Look

WCVB, Hearst’s ABC affiliate in Boston, is calling on Nielsen to investigate the accuracy of ratings dating back to 2016 after a single household in the market skewed the February sweeps, pushing Fox affiliate WFXT to late-night wins.

“I have never seen this before in my career,” WCVB president and general manager Bill Fine said in a letter to clients. “Although there are a few similar instances… we believe the circumstances in Boston to be more pronounced.”

Fine’s letter comes on the heels of Nielsen reissuing Boston’s February ratings Monday after removing the data from the household in question. 

"We became aware of irregular button pushing compliance patterns in a Local People Meter home in Boston," a Nielsen spokesperson said. "The household was removed from measurement soon after the start of the March survey period."

WFXT VP and general manager Tom Raponi indicated he was ready to put the ordeal to rest.

"We do not have any input into how Nielsen selects the households in their sample that determine the ratings in the Boston market,” he said. “We have received the revised ratings that Nielsen has issued and we are focused on the future continuing to serve our viewers on every screen, every day. We are confident that our news programming will continue to resonate with our audience.”

Originally, the February sweeps showed WFXT having the top-rated newscasts among adults 25-54 at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.  However, once the ratings were adjusted, WFXT fell to No. 2 at 10 p.m. behind WHDH, Sunbeam’s independent station. At 11, WFXT fell to fourth, topping only WBTS, the new NBC O&O.

The performances of the market’s five news-producing stations changed little under the revised ratings, Fine said.

“To the near exclusion of every other local TV station, along with approximately 600 channels that most pay TV providers serve to the Boston DMA, virtually only WFXT benefitted from this one household,” Fine wrote.

Fine said that sort of activity gives him concern about other ratings periods that included the household, particularly during the November 2016 sweeps. Data for Nov. 21-23 show the household “had even greater impact than in February for WFXT,” Fine wrote. On Nov. 22, the home generated a larger audience for WFXT than the market’s 759 other reporting households combined, he said.

Fine said whatever was going on in the house is further evident when you compare data from November versus statistics from January’s Super Bowl, which is the year’s biggest TV watching event – and featured the hometown Patriots.

According to Fine, ratings generated from that one household show more people watched WFXT newscasts on Nov. 22 than watched the Super Bowl in Boston’s most active TV zip code.

“And Tom Brady did not anchor Fox’s news on any of the nights in question,” he said.

Nielsen, however, has not agreed to widen the scope of its investigation, saying the November activity Fine is questioning differs from the rescinded February activity—and that nothing has warranted writing off the household as a “bad home," the letter said.

"After a thorough analysis and a comprehensive review of the household’s viewing habits, we determined that this was an isolated incident that impacted the Local Overnights for 12 days in February/March 2017," the Nielsen spokesperson said. "We also examined data going back to November 2016 and the data met our compliance thresholds and quality standards."