USA Study Shows Sweeps Inflates Ad Rates

Findings May Indicate Broadcasters’ Artifice Involved
NEW YORK-USA Networks is shopping a proprietary study to agencies showing that, without the sweeps months, ratings for broadcast networks’ biggest shows, such as Frasier and ER, drop precipitously, suggesting that broadcasters’ ad rates are artificially inflated.
USA arranged the study at the suggestion of an unidentified media agency that has grown frustrated with paying higher CPMs for lower ratings on broadcast TV. The study, headed by Ronnie Beason, vp, ad sales, marketing and research, found that from Sept. 21, 1998 to July 25, 1999, the household-ratings average for the Big Four networks during the non-sweeps period fell 15 percent from sweeps data, and some groups, such as adults 25-54 and
18-49, both fell 18 percent.
“Their presentation injected a healthy dose of reality, reminding us how absurd the sweeps numbers are,” said David Marans, senior partner and research director at J. Walter Thompson.
NBC’s ER fell 38.4 percent to a 10.1 among adults 25-54 in the non-sweep analysis from a 16.4, with sweep numbers included. For the same demo, Fox’s The X-Files declined 31.3 percent; ABC’s Drew Carey Show, 6.3 percent; and CBS’s Touched By An Angel, 17.8 percent.
To date, Beason said she has shown the study to True North, Western Initiative Media, JWT, SFM Media and others.
“We concluded that if you take out the sweeps period, you’ll find that the ratings for cable and the ratings for broadcast non-sweep periods look similar,” said Beason.
The study measured regularly scheduled programs at their regular times. Not included: specials and shows moved from night to night.
Jon Nesvig, Fox ad sales president, said media buyers are aware of high and lower ratings periods, and since the broadcast networks guarantee ratings, media buyers do not end up overpaying for inventory. “Every advertiser gets what they pay for and is protected,” he said.
“I don’t think this study will sway us,” said Tim Spengler, Western
Initiative Media director of national broadcast.