Masked Scheduler's Ratings Smackdown

This edition of the Masked Mailbox starts off with a simple question for CM that requires a long answer, but I'll try to condense it.
"Can you explain how Nielsen sweeps work and if they still matter?"
A broadcast network is made up of a combination of owned and affiliated stations who carry the network's programming in all the dayparts. These stations fill out the day with locally produced content (mostly news) and syndicated shows like "Judge Judy" and "Wheel of Fortune."
Nielsen has a national sample to measure network programming, but in order to determine ad rates for the local station, Nielsen would measure viewing in every market four times a year -- November, February, May and July -- by sending out diaries. Nielsen would collect the diaries and issue reports for every market in the country. This is how stations would get their demographic data.
Although the networks are evaluated every day through a national people meter sample, they load up programming during these sweep periods in order to give their affiliates the best possible ratings, which are then used to sell ads until the next sweeps period. The 10 p.m. shows are especially important because they lead into the station's local news.
Networks don't benefit directly from sweeps; their owned stations do. When I was in the biz, they were bragging rights for the highest-rated network.
Things started to change when more and more markets came online as people meter markets. Now stations in the largest markets receive daily demographic data, making sweeps periods obsolete.
I believe Nielsen still measures the smaller markets during sweeps periods, but maybe there's someone out there who can confirm that.
The ever-inquisitive SH asks, "Friday night broadcast TV is interesting right now. Here you have ABC, which cancelled their comedy lineup at 8, and have lost several million viewers in the process. Also, why do networks keep putting on these Marvel shows? They never get viewers. I'm sure it has to do with other parts of the deal."
There is a long history in this business of cancelling shows and seeing ratings in the time period decline with new and different programming. ABC didn't completely own either of the comedies it axed and was probably losing money with them. "Once Upon a Time" is approaching the end of its career, and ABC felt that a show it owns can perform well enough in a low HUT time period.
Regarding the Marvel shows, it's a function of corporate synergy since Disney owns Marvel.
... And he has a follow-up: "Not sure if you've seen the promos FOX is running for 'The 4.' I'd love to get your take. They literally say 'Who are the 4?' I'm wondering why that would make anyone want to watch.”
I have no idea.
Have questions? I’ll answer them if you email me at or tweet me @maskedscheduler.

Broadcast primetime live + same-day ratings for Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017

Note: NBC’s live “Thursday Night Football” broadcast may result in greater adjustments than usual for the network.

The numbers for Thursday:

Time Show Adults 18-49 rating/share
Viewers (millions)
8 p.m. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) 2.6/11 13.24
Football Night in America (NBC) 1.9/7 7.36
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC) 1.8/7 7.51
Gotham (FOX) 0.9/3 2.66
Supernatural (The CW) 0.6/2 1.87
8:30 p.m. Thursday Night Football (NBC) (8:30-11 p.m.) 2.8/11 9.96
Young Sheldon (CBS) 2.1/8 11.74
9 p.m. Mom (CBS) 1.4/5 8.47
Scandal (ABC) 1.1/4 4.98
The Orville (FOX) 0.9/3 3.28
Arrow (The CW) 0.5/2 1.30
9:30 p.m. Life in Pieces (CBS) 1.1/4 6.41
10 p.m. SWAT (CBS) 0.9/3 6.22
How to Get Away with Murder (ABC) 0.9/3 3.72


Thursday’s three top scripted shows were all off a little bit in the ratings compared to a week ago.

“The Big Bang Theory” (2.6 rating among adults 18-49), “Young Sheldon” (2.1) and “Grey’s Anatomy” (1.8) each slipped a tenth of a point vs. last week’s early numbers (“Big Bang” adjusted up in the finals).

“Mom” (1.4), “Life in Pieces” (1.1), “The Orville” (0.9) and “SWAT” (0.9) all dipped a tenth as well. ABC’s “Scandal” and “How to Get Away with Murder,” FOX’s “Gotham” and both of The CW’s shows were even with last week.

“Thursday Night Football” drew a 9.4 household rating in metered markets for NBC, even with last week’s game and up 0.1 vs. the same week last year.

Network averages:

Adults 18-49 rating/share 2.7/11 1.5/6 1.3/5 0.9/3 0.6/2
Total Viewers (millions) 9.52 8.72 5.40 2.97 1.58


Late-night metered market ratings (adults 18-49, households):

11:35 p.m.

“Jimmy Kimmel Live”: 0.7/4, 1.9/5

“The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”: 0.6/3, 2.8/7

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon”: n/a, delayed by NFL overrun

12:35 a.m.

“Nightline”: 0.4/3, 1.2/4

“The Late Late Show with James Corden”: 0.3/3, 1.2/4

“Late Night with Seth Meyers”: n/a, delayed

: Estimated percentage of the universe of TV households (or other specified group) tuned to a program in the average minute. Ratings are expressed as a percent.
Fast Affiliate Ratings: These first national ratings are available at approximately 11 a.m. ET the day after telecast. The figures may include stations that did not air the entire network feed, as well as local news breaks or cutaways for local coverage or other programming. Fast Affiliate ratings are not as useful for live programs and are likely to differ significantly from the final results, because the data reflect normal broadcast feed patterns. 
Share (of Audience): 
The percent of households (or persons) using television who are tuned to a specific program, station or network in a specific area at a specific time. 
Time Shifted Viewing:
 Program ratings for national sources are produced in three streams of data – Live, Live +Same-Day and Live +7 Day. Time-shifted figures account for incremental viewing that takes place with DVRs. Live+SD includes viewing during the same broadcast day as the original telecast, with a cut-off of 3 a.m. local time when meters transmit daily viewing to Nielsen for processing. Live +7 ratings include  viewing that takes place during the 7 days following a telecast.

Source: The Nielsen Company.

Posted by:Rick Porter

Rick Porter has been covering TV since the days when networks sent screeners on VHS, one of which was a teaser for the first season of "American Idol." He's left-handed, makes a very solid grilled cheese and has been editor of TV by the Numbers since October 2015. He lives in Austin.

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