Will Sweeps Be Swept Away?

If some broadcasters had their way, sweeps would be history. Given year-round programming and local people meters, what's the point? "I'm hopeful sweeps will atrophy sooner rather than later," says Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman. Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal Television Group President, has echoed similar sentiments.

Nielsen's local people meters, which the company plans to install in the top 10 markets in the next 18 months, is a driving force. Why showcase your best efforts three times a year when the LPMs monitor broadcast performances daily?

After all, a sizeable chunk of the Big Four's revenue comes from their O&Os. "If they have meters, that means no sweeps," says one broadcast exec. One caveat: Networks are unlikely to pay for meters in the midsize and smaller markets, so advertisers will continue to buy off the standard sweeps books.

But what do advertisers think? "The ad community will decide whether there should be sweeps," insists Ron Crowder, COO of Communications Corp. and chair of the Fox affiliate board of governors. "They will decide how they measure their dollars. The networks will place their manpower behind that."

For now, sweeps are a fact of broadcast life.

The season ended last week, and NBC claimed victory in adults 18-49 in all dayparts for the third year running. The network also won all three sweeps periods in the key demos. NBC's triumph was led by the unexpected performance of miniseries 10.5
and the series finales of Friends
and Frasier.

Fox closed this season in a tight second-place race with NBC, only one-tenth of a rating point behind it after American Idol's finale. CBS also gained on NBC and is projected to tie NBC in adults 25-54 for the season, the first time since 1980. CBS was the runaway victor in total viewers.

But the future of sweeps is unclear.

"If only 10 markets have people meters, will they want to get rid of sweeps for the other 200?" asks Jeff Block, general manager and vice president of Cox's Fox affiliate KTVU. "Are advertisers going to buy one set of parameters for the top markets and another for the rest?" Probably not.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.