adios pretty tables

Sorry, but…

Effective immediately, we will no longer be including “pretty tables” of ratings data by show in the overnight reports.  We can still do the reports, we just can’t put the information in tabular form.

That’s the short version, and for most of you, that’s probably all you care about!  But for anyone interested, there’s a longer version.


I consider the change extremely unfortunate.  When we started this site almost two years ago now, one place where I felt we could add a lot of value versus the overnight data that was available elsewhere online was by making it easier to read.  Tabularizing the data served that purpose well, and additionally made it easy for someone to completely ignore any of our editorial and jump straight to the data.  It was an approach that seemed to make most of our readers happy.

Are there other ways to add value to the information?  I’m sure that there are, but I’m not sure any of them have as much impact as tabularizing the data.  We’ll see what we can figure out. It will be a work in progress.

I’m not happy about it, but I figure it’s better to be able to publish everything we always did, including the overnight reports (though sans the pretty tables) than to wind up in conversations with Nielsen lawyers.

In fairness to Nielsen, the change we had to implement with regard to our easy-to-browse archives where the information is now limited to two weeks of data was understandable.    Though regrettable from ours and our readers’ perspective, I completely understood Nielsen’s position on the archives and why an unlimited archive was not something they were comfortable with.

Do I understand the issue with the overnight reports?  Not so much, really.    While I understood the issue with archiving, the issue of the tabularized data in the overnight reports is a bit of a head scratcher for me.  But, the fact is I don’t have to understand all of Nielsen’s rules to understand that Nielsen does have the right to specify how its data can and can’t be used.  So where I came down is that while I don’t really understand why granular tables of ratings data in the overnight reports is a big deal to Nielsen, whether I understood it or not, the request didn’t seem unreasonable.

Initially – and I might have misunderstood them – it seemed we were being instructed that we couldn’t report any overnight data at all.  That did seem unreasonable because it’s so commonly available at this point and I did balk at that premise.

A matter of time or a really pissed off PR guy at ABC Sports/ESPN?

My feeling was always that it was only a matter of time before we’d hear from Nielsen.   I want to reiterate that while I don’t love the outcome in terms of changes to our site, and don’t necessarily understand the issue with tables in the overnight reports, I don’t think Nielsen is being unreasonable.

We flew under Nielsen’s radar completely for a good long while.  It wasn’t necessarily our choice either.  We got wind months ago, from someone in Nielsen’s communications group who is now no longer with the company that  they weren’t happy with some of the data we were publishing.  And I wound up reaching out and requesting a discussion so we could have very specific conversations about what was and wasn’t OK.  We didn’t hear anything for almost 6 months.

I was told that the reason we were hearing anything now was because they had complaints from customers who were licensing (paying for) the data about how we were using the data on our site.   It’s just a guess, and I could be wrong, but it seems like the number of paying customers who’d complain about our site would be somewhere between 0 and 1.  I allow for the 1 only because…

In June, we heard from a very, very, very pissed off guy at ABC.  I’m talking vein-popping pissed.  He was very upset – livid even,  because the Sports Business Journal had cited our report about some of the preliminary data for one of the games of the NBA finals on ABC.   While we have about 5 pages of disclaimers in our overnight reports about how, particularly with live events the numbers are very preliminary, and disclaimed we were only reporting on the prime-time portion, etc., the Sports Business Journal didn’t offer up any of those disclaimers when citing the numbers.

He claimed we were damaging the brand by reporting the preliminary data.  I explained that the data was reported all over the place and he simultaneously hit me with “if everyone jumped off a bridge…” and “Sports Business Journal didn’t cite any of those other sites.”  I explained that we posted the final numbers as soon as they were released (generally daily, with the NBA finals) but he wanted us to not publish the overnight data at all. I told him that wasn’t going to happen.  He chewed me out for about 15 seconds and then hung up on me.

I followed up with him in e-mail that we’d at least bring the disclaimers about live events up to the top when we were reporting live events, but couldn’t take responsibility for how others cited the data.   I never heard back from him.

Was he pissed off enough to make a stink with Nielsen?   I have no idea.  He was pretty pissed off, but as I said, I thought it was only a matter of time before we’d hear from Nielsen.  If you’re a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist though, the timing is right, and I’d blame the ABC/ESPN guy. I consider that whole experience unfortunate whether he called Nielsen or not.  First, ABC/Disney/ESPN have been extremely good to us overall (it’s a big, big company with a lot of people, 99.9% of them who’ve been nothing but helpful) and, the reality is my favorite TV show is ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption (it’s Bill’s favorite, too), and I also am a huge Around the Horn fan.  Lost is currently my favorite scripted show, so, personally I absolutely love me some ABC/ESPN.

But whether it was just a matter of time, or some really pissed off PR dude at ABC sports, no more pretty tables in the overnight reports.

If you want good relations, it’s better to comply than defy

I suppose we could’ve been defiant across the board, but despite occasional antics on the site, Bill and I are generally pretty reasonable.  And again, though we don’t love the outcomes, Nielsen’s requests weren’t unreasonable.

The truth is we wind up essentially being a good promotional/branding tool for Nielsen.  The Nielsen data does matter, particularly with the show renewals and cancellations that fans really seem to care about.  So by default rather than design we wind up trumpeting the message of “hey, look how frakking important the Nielsen data is!”

Based on what Nielsen requested, I didn’t see any upside in being defiant. Doing so would only result in taking up time that is much better spent pondering the fates of Dollhouse and Jay Leno.  Plus, in the extreme, it could result in no website at all, or at least not a website we’re interested in publishing.  That’s not a good outcome.

I hope that it is possible to go forward from here and start improving our relations with Nielsen in ways that will ultimately benefit our readers.  I’ll make sure to work on that before the NBA finals come back around…

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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