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.

 

 
  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “People are to dumb to understand these things.”

    For most people (people who don’t have to write about ratings), there is no reason to have to understand. Just like there’s no reason to have to know exactly how putting gasoline in your tank makes your car go.

    Thing is, most of the people who write about ratings in the “TV media” don’t understand the content of what’s in this post. That’s the equivalent of a Motor Trend writer not knowing exactly how gasoline makes your car go. I suppose there are some out there, but I doubt it’s as widespread as the ill-numeracy in the TV media world.

  • tjw

    “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.”

    Oh snap!

    I, too, have had a problem with comparing preliminary numbers to the previous week’s finals, but I’ve learned to just ignore the commentary and look at the numbers. The preliminary numbers usually don’t adjust that much and, unless the show is really on the bubble, moving up or down a tenth or two usually isn’t that big of a deal.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “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.”

    The final ratings represent any episode/show aired prior to 3am after the air date. So in your example the TVD ratings would be included in the final ratings.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “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.”

    Nielsen’s answer to that question is something on the order of “additional processing”.

  • tjw

    @John K.,

    That’s a good question. We get Kansas basketball games here on NBC from time to time and they always end up airing that night’s shows at 1 or 2am the next morning, after the late night shows.

    I’d also like to know how Nielsen handles affiliates airing wonky program times. For example, the St. Louis CW affiliate airs local news at 8ET/7CT and airs the regular CW programming from 9ET/8CT to 11ET/10CT. So, does Nielsen record Arrow’s numbers (which airs there when the rest of the country is getting Supernatural) as going to Supernatural in the preliminary data and Supernatural’s numbers as out of primetime and then adjust them in the final numbers? Or do they factor those issues in the preliminary data.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “I’d also like to know how Nielsen handles affiliates airing wonky program times. For example, the St. Louis CW affiliate airs local news at 8ET/7CT and airs the regular CW programming from 9ET/8CT to 11ET/10CT. So, does Nielsen record Arrow’s numbers (which airs there when the rest of the country is getting Supernatural) as going to Supernatural in the preliminary data and Supernatural’s numbers as out of primetime and then adjust them in the final numbers? Or do they factor those issues in the preliminary data.”

    The preliminary fast affiliate ratings report the ratings for the time period no matter what aired locally, and the final ratings sort out the specific show ratings.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    The preliminary fast affiliate ratings report the ratings for the time period no matter what aired locally, and the final ratings sort out the specific show ratings.

    That’s generally true, but it’s worth noting that certain things are automatically factored in – we report ratings based on ET, but the central time conversions happen correctly even in the fast nationals. So if Arrow airs at 8p in NY and 7p in Chicago, the ratings we post for Arrow include both (rather than whatever aired in Chicago at 8pm).

    My understanding which is definitely fallible is that in the specific example where an affiliate regularly time-shifts vs. the normal times for that time zone (e.g. always airs 8-10p CT instead of 7-9p CT) the fast nationals are still coded correctly. So if the St. Louis CW affiliate regularly airs Arrow at 8pm CT rather than 7pm CT, Arrow would still be counted properly in the Fast Nationals.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Bill Gorman

    “My understanding which is definitely fallible is that in the specific example where an affiliate regularly time-shifts vs. the normal times for that time zone (e.g. always airs 8-10p CT instead of 7-9p CT) the fast nationals are still coded correctly. So if the St. Louis CW affiliate regularly airs Arrow at 8pm CT rather than 7pm CT, Arrow would still be counted properly in the Fast Nationals.”

    If that’s true, I have learned something new!

  • Wally Sparks

    Wouldn’t shows that are heavily urban (adjusted down) or rural (adjusted up) be susceptible to adjustments?

  • CrimTV

    @Crim TV

    Why do you have the same username as me?!!

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    “Wouldn’t shows that are heavily urban (adjusted down) or rural (adjusted up) be susceptible to adjustments?”

    If we posted the even more preliminary Local People Meter ratings which currently skew urban, yes. But we don’t currently post those. The Fast National ratings we post are much more inclusive and not susceptible to such adjustments.

  • Feedback

    So basically the Preliminaries record the ratings each network got per timeslot, while the Final ratings record each rating by programming?

  • Bitter Ringer Fan

    ” 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.”

    hahaha you couldn’t have put a better example!!! i was laughing so hard at the Flopcandal fans when it got adjusted down 3 TENTHS!! at least that goes to the ones so full of themselves feeling important, thinking the show is now being recognized, guys don’t celebrate so early! wait for the final ratings and then celebrate.

  • Bookworm

    @Bitter Ringer Fan

    I really need an explanation on why Scandal is a flop. I’m really not understanding the logic behind that comment at all. Also, Scandal was adjusted down and still won the hours and got great numbers for a show that was averaging a 2.0. So who is really mad?

    I like Rob and Bill but that last part about Scandal was completely unnecessary since last week, POI fans were celebrating the show topping Grey but it was also adjusted down .3′s in the finals. Scandal fans go hard but when the finals came out, we still had reason too.

    Last week we were supposed to be adjusted down (based on the “brilliant” assumptions of our most “informed” posters) and we weren’t. Not really hard to think the same might have happened this week, but it didn’t and that was the end.

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    I like Rob and Bill but that last part about Scandal was completely unnecessary since last week, POI fans were celebrating the show topping Grey but it was also adjusted down .3?s in the finals. Scandal fans go hard but when the finals came out, we still had reason too.

    I wasn’t picking on Scandal. If I had written the post a week ago, I would’ve used the POI example!

  • Lisa

    It greatly amuses me when people ignore the bolded warnings about likely adjustments and foolishly gloat about the ratings of shows that are almost certain to get adjusted downward. :D

  • glover

    When there is a local preemption the show is programmed in a different timeslot, right? The ratings for the show on that different timeslot is counted on the final numbers?

  • http://tvbythenumbers.com Robert Seidman

    @glover, as Bill noted earlier in the comments, yes, they are in the daily finals if they aired before 3am.

  • Adorno

    I understand the networks use the preliminary ratings to brag (if good), because of the better timing in the news cycle, but what about when they decide whether to cancel or renew? Surely they must then look on final ratings over the course of the season and not on preliminary ratings (at all)?

  • Azzman

    I STILL say it’s effed up that our favorite shows get cancelled and GARBAGE (any reality show) stays on the air based on whether a “regal” 25,000 idiots decide to watch it or not..It’s about to be 2013–technology has almost made man obsolete, but we can’t come up with a better system to keep Moonlight, Flash Forward, or Eleventh Hour on the air?! C’mon man!!

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