Numbers 101: Why Your Favorite Shows' Ratings Get Adjusted Up & Down in the Final Ratings

Categories: Help,TV Ratings Reference

Written By

December 15th, 2012

We get this question a lot: what's the difference between the preliminary numbers you post ~11:30a ET every day and the final numbers that are usually posted ~5 hours later? Why are their differences in the ratings between the preliminary and final ratings and why do some shows get adjusted when others don't?

Good question!

The preliminary ratings we post (the "Nielsen Fast National Ratings" in Nielsen jargon) just measure whatever aired on local affiliates in the time period. Most of the time that works pretty well.  But there are a few fairly common situations that increase the likelihood of adjustments to the preliminary Fast National Ratings in the National Final Ratings:

1. Live events: the Fast National ratings only measure what was on in the local time period. So if something airs coast-to-coast at 8pm ET and 5pm PT (like a sporting event) the 5pm viewing on the west coast isn’t included in the fast nationals. It is added to the final program ratings though.

2. Local preemptions: the fast nationals measure whatever aired in the time period. So if NBA Basketball or MLB baseball aired on the CW affiliate in Chicago, the basketball or baseball viewing *is* included in the fast national ratings but it is stripped out in the finals. When this happens, the numbers in the preliminary (Fast National) ratings are often inflated, and then appropriately "deflated" in the National Finals.

3. Overruns: the fast nationals are time period measures only, so if Modern Family runs from 9:00-9:31, in the fast nationals, the extra minute goes into the show airing at 9:30p. In the final national ratings that minute gets stripped out of whatever aired at 9:30 and is added into Modern Family where it belongs.

It's major local preemptions that usually cause the most false hope and confusion. To our consternation, despite posting red, bold-text, italicized disclaimers at the top of the preliminary (Fast National) ratings noting major preemptions and that there is a greater likelihood of adjustments, many fans completely ignore the warning.

So even when we disclaim that the Thursday Night Football game aired on the ABC affiliate in the Philadelphia market and to take the preliminary numbers with a grain of salt, there are still plenty of "Woo hoo, Scandal at season highs, baby!" comments on the preliminary post only to have Scandal adjusted down three tenths, to just below season highs with adults 18-49 in the finals.

 

 
  • SarahL

    Love the picture, Robert. LOL!

  • Ali

    Max??

  • Marius

    They should not release preliminary ratings at all.

    Also,it’s not only the readers here that ignore the preemptions, but many official press releases from the networks wanting to take pride in some increase that end up not existing.

  • CrimTV

    @Marius

    I disagree, me and many others would agree that it feels great when a show you love (which in the preliminaries was down from the previous week) and then it is adjusted up one or two tenths is amazing. Also the suspense if there was a pre-emption or overrun and you want to wait for the finals to make sure your show wasn’t adjusted.

  • Ali

    @CrimTV

    that’s not what Marius is talking about. Networks do use those prelimiary numbers to boast about their shows which creates the confusion in the first place (eg see ABC yesterday with those numbers for Scandal) and that’s the problem! ABC claimed Scandal hit series high with that inflated 2.7 when in reality it only matched its season high of 2.4 after being adjusted.

  • Ram510

    I knew Scandal would be adjusted down, but it was still fun to see Scandal (even if falsely so) up that high (crazy fan here). Plus just the excitement from last nights episode to the next morning seeing that made me smile. A 2.4 is still great for ABC and really good for any 10pm so really so I’m still happy and believe Scandal will grow in January

    Bill do you watch Scandal, do you understand the excitement?

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    While I favor the preliminary ratings, even with disclaimers, I do agree with Marius that the premature celebrating (or hating)is not purely a result of ignoring the disclaimers in the preliminary ratings post.

    The networks’ PR staffs are as likely to celebrate preliminary ratings (and we typically post those celebratory releases) as the fans are and in some cases even moreso!

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @Ram510: I’m not Bill, but I can speak for him with 100% certainty: no, he doesn’t watch Scandal. I haven’t yet either, but I may decide to catch up on it some day.

  • THE OLD MAN

    I think the networks’ PR staff end up with more egg on their faces than the fans do.

  • Tessa

    @Robert

    I do agree with Marius that the premature celebrating (or hating)is not purely a result of ignoring the disclaimers in the preliminary ratings post. The networks’ PR staffs are as likely to celebrate preliminary ratings (and we typically post those celebratory releases) as the fans are and in some cases even moreso!

    It’s a bit ironic to only mention fans and network PRs when this site itself used the Friday preliminaries (that didn’t get adjusted until Monday) to come up with catchy headings like “Supernatural down!” even though it had become a pattern for the show to adjust up and a silly practice anyways to compare its last Final ratings to its current Prelim ratings. But hey, it brought a hailstorm of angry comments and a slew of site traffic, which I guess was the point.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    and a silly practice anyways to compare its last Final ratings to its current Prelim ratings.

    On that, I agree with you and we did not always do that. But the practice of comparing the prelims to prior originals’ final ratings is what Nielsen does and what the networks themselves do too.

    As it usually does, “When in Rome” ultimately won out.

  • Bookworm

    Scandal Fans are always excited about great news. I knew it would be adjusted down but just seeing it that high gave us a rush of excitement. I think it was an overload from last week and this weeks episode. Scandal has been doing great and really seeing an increase and more attention. Anyone who has a show that was basically the Underdog of the network would be happy to see it getting shine and growing.

    Scandal was adjusted down but it still won the night and was up from its average and just a tick down from the series higher—I honestly can’t complain about that!

  • Nicole

    Thanks so much, because I keep on asking the question

  • brian

    Robert/Bill,

    Are ratings still determined by people with Nielsen boxes only? I’ve heard people say that now ratings are determined/include what everyone watches (via reports or some other means from their cable/satellite company). Any truth to this or are ratings still determined by the mysterious Others with the Nielsen boxes?

    Curious to know. Thanks!

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “Are ratings still determined by people with Nielsen boxes only? “

    Yes

    Edit: During the four sweeps periods each year, households in various smaller markets fill out diaries that are primarily used to calculate the local ratings in those markets, but everything you see on our site, and pretty much everywhere else in public comes from the national Nielsen sample of ~25k households with peoplemeters (aka, Nielsen boxes).

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “I think the networks’ PR staff end up with more egg on their faces than the fans do.”

    While I like to poke them about it on Twitter, I can’t really blame them.

    Most days for most networks the adjustments are not significant.

    Also, PR they put out at Noon Eastern time is 100x more effective than PR they put out at 5PM+ Eastern time. Almost nobody in the TV media that I follow (and sadly, I follow most of them) picks up on final ratings adjustments. That said, if an adjusted rating sets a milestone, many networks will put out more PR after the final ratings.

  • Survivor Fan

    What causes adjustments that do not fit into one of the three categories?

  • jj

    People are to dumb to understand these things. They will continue to have false hope. People are delusional.

  • romo

    Why do #s sometimes change from the final rating & # in the top 20 shows list ?

    Sometimes it will go from 20.856 to 20.861.

    Not a big difference but still a difference.

  • John K.

    One thing not mentioned in this post is if, for example, there is an NBA game on a CW affiliate, and The Vampire Diaries airs at, 10pm for example, after the game finished (or any other titme outiside of when it was regularly scheduled, often can be at midnight), do those ratings (in this case The Vampire Diaries numbers at 10pm) count in the Finals? Or do the finals basically represent ratings only for markets where there was no pre-emption.

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