Typically, Nielsen measures sweeps in all media markets nationwide in November, February and May. A little-noticed sweep is also conducted in July.
Stations were looking to pass on the February sweep because the digital transition was scheduled to take place on Feb. 17. That huge change was expected to skew the results too much to make holding a sweeps worthwhile, and Nielsen then said it would postpone the sweep to March. Many stations told the measurement company they didn’t want to pay for that either, but Nielsen reminded stations that they were contractually obligated to do so and that it had already spent money preparing to run the March sweeps.
Nielsen gathers ratings information in several different ways. Local people meters in the top 10 markets gather the most precise demographic information about what people are watching locally, while people meters across the country acquire national demographic information, such as how CBS Television Distribution’s Oprah did among women 18-49 in any given week as well as in households.
Set-top meters in the top 50 markets measure what people are watching, but do not measure demographic information. Markets below the top 50 are measured with diaries only. That’s why sweeps remain important in those markets, and why it takes about a month for those measurements to be tallied.
But stations and syndicators have several reasons why it makes little sense to go ahead in March. First, no legitimate comparison is available: February is a darker, colder month, so people tend to watch less TV. And this year, daylight-saving time starts March 8, so even fewer people will be in front of their sets. With no apples-to-apples comparison, sales reps have nothing to match performances up with when they are trying to sell ads.
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