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Is double counting Nielsen numbers the new black? It seems to be for cable shows

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January 18th, 2009

I keep seeing stories about how the premiere of The Beast on Thursday drew 3.6 million viewers. And while it's true, it took two episodes to do it. The actual premiere at 10pm averaged 2.4 million and a re-broadcast of the premiere immediately following the premiere averaged 1.2 million. I've seen this method of counting used for other cable shows from Damages to HBO's True Blood and Showtime's Dexter.

I don't really have a problem with the accounting for shows like The Beast and Damages, as it seems to be the case that the advertising is sold across the multiple airings. But it is misleading in terms of actual viewership. It also begs the question of opportunity cost. Repeats of CSI: Miami frequently average more than 1.2 million on A&E, though unfortunately I don't have the 18-49 break outs for those airings (or what it costs A&E to air them, for that matter) to make any definitive conclusions based on opportunity cost.

My fear is that the practice will be universally embraced by the PR mavens and make its way into the mainstream where everything gets added together. We'll see headlines like Scrubs draws 11.26 million. Interestingly, a rebroadcast of Tuesday's 9pm Scrubs drew more viewers when it aired on Thursday at 8pm - it's not surprising since it didn't have to go up against American Idol, the second time around. The 9pm edition on Tuesday averaged 4.628 million and then 6.634 million as a repeat on Thursday at 8pm.

My problem is where does it stop? Will A&E start putting out releases like CSI: Miami seen by 36.63 million? That's how many the 30 episodes of the show added up to for the week of January 5-11. And if you think that's beastly, you haven't seen anything. NCIS totaled up to 51.27 million over 17 episodes for that week, and that too is...nothing beastly.

The dominator, by any metric, is the yellow and porous one, weighing in at one hundred and eighty-two million, two hundred fifty-one thousand for the same week over 102 airings (63 on Nickelodeon, 39 on Nick Toons). That's right 182.251 million. The Beast indeed.

 
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