Why Do Broadcast TV Networks Still Rely On Sweeps Months?

Why Do Broadcast TV Networks Still Rely On Sweeps Months?

November sweeps have started! The unabashed TV fan in me is excited. It means that just about all of my broadcast shows will be on, without repeats, and that story lines will be at their most dramatic, or comedic as it may be (according to the promos anyway).

However, the TV nerd in me wonders how relevant sweeps really are in an age where time-shifting is increasingly becoming the norm, where the traditional TV calendar of September – May is less rigid, and where ‘broadcasting’ is slowly being replaced by ‘narrowcasting’.

What Sweeps Means To Nielsen TV Ratings

Throughout the year Nielsen collects ratings data for the top 56 markets through electronic metering, which includes set meters to keep track of channels and People Meters, which gather demographic information along with channels being watched.

For sweeps months (November, February, May, and July) though, Nielsen goes one step further and utilizes paper diaries, approximately 2 million of them. These diaries are sent out all across the county to the other TV markets not normally monitored electronically.

Seven-day diaries (or eight-day diaries in homes with DVRs) are mailed to homes to keep a tally of what is watched on each television set and by whom. Over the course of a sweeps period, diaries are mailed to a new panel of homes each week. At the end of the month, all of the viewing data from the individual weeks is aggregated. [Nielsen]

While I’ve never been a fan of the Nielsen ratings system, too many of my shows have been been axed due to low ratings, I can’t believe that they still use paper diaries to measure ratings. Like seriously, paper! There has got to be a better way to measure who’s watching what.

I mean between cable boxes, DVRs, and OnDemand services I’m sure that our cable providers know a lot more about our current viewing habits than they are letting on. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for ‘Big Brother’ or Skynet or anything of the sorts but it’s 2013 and I still can’t get past the fact that the television industry doesn’t have a more sophisticated measuring system.

To me, it seems that for four months out of the year Nielson dives a bit deeper into metrics and expands its sample size, and as a result the broadcast networks pull out all of the stops to try to attract as many viewers as possible, or at least the ones within the 18-49 demo.

But does this even work anymore? Stunt-casting and ‘must-see’ episodes just seem so gimmicky. If you’re a fan then you’re going to watch an episode regardless. Casual viewers could be persuaded to tune in I guess, but I have no idea what its like to be a casual viewer of anything.

Realistically and most logically though most TV networks don’t really care about fans, they care about viewers, more specifically ones that watch TV live. For instance, I enjoy Elementary but if I’ve got 3 episodes stocked up on my DVR, I’m not doing CBS any favors.

And I suppose that’s what I have to wrap my head around, the semantic difference between being a fan and being a ‘live’ viewer and what that means to broadcast networks and Nielsen ratings. As long as the current advertising system is in place, sweeps months will continue to exist and broadcast networks will continue to up the dramatic ante or the comedic hijinks to make their programs the viewing priority for fans. Or at least during the months of February, May, July, and November that is.

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Carved Pumpkins Perfect For TV Fans

Carved Pumpkins Perfect For TV Fans
Battlestar Galactica Cylon Pumpkin

Battlestar Galactica Cylon Jack-O-Lantern [Source]

As you gear up for Halloween this year, here’s some TV-themed pumpkin carvings to help you get into the holiday spirit… or to help you tap into your craftier self:

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Saturday’s Adventures at NYCC 2013

Saturday’s Adventures at NYCC 2013

Luck seemed to be on my side on Saturday as the weather cleared up and I managed to see and do everything I wanted to at New York Comic Con. Going in with realistic expectations and a pre-determined schedule helped, but I think part of a successful Comic Con experience is luck – and timing.

Me & Zachary Levi The Nerd Machine

Me & Zachary Levi

First on tap was The Nerd Machine booth, which I swore wasn’t over by The Block, but lo and behold, it was. Normally that wouldn’t have mattered but TNM was holding “Smiles for Smiles” photo ops with various celebrities to raise money for Operation Smile and Zachary Levi (Chuck) was there, like at that moment.

Despite some slightly panicked wandering of the showroom floor, my friend and I made it in time to have a super quick meet-and-greet and photo with Zachary Levi. We also each walked away with a free “Viva La Nerdolution” poster and some other swag from the merchandise table. First win of the day!

Where's Waldo?

Where’s Waldo?

Since it was still kind of early (re: not yet at max capacity) and we were already on the showroom floor we decided to just continue shuffling through the crowds, up and down each aisle taking in as much as we could – from the artwork to the cosplayers to all the other geek-themed stuff. Finn from Adventure Time seemed to be the most common character we spotted, although there were also several Waldo sightings and we even found Carmen Sandiego.

Besides The Nerd Machine, the 20th Anniversary Power Rangers booth was my favorite find. Not only were there action figures on display from each of the seasons but there was a couple of video monitors set up playing various episodes from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. There was also a decent size replica of the original Megazord.

Panels Are Fun Too – Plus There Are Chairs

After about two hours on the showroom floor we hit our sensory overload limit and headed downstairs to the no-cell phone service zone to enjoy some panels. Seriously the Javits Center and T-Mobile don’t mix well, which makes the NYCC app pretty unhelpful at times. Thankfully it didn’t matter as we never needed to devise a ‘Plan B’.

For us, the first panel of the day was “The Mary Sue Presents: Representation in Geek Media”, which we narrowly made it into. Like the line was cut-off right after us, standing room only kind of narrow. I still consider that win number two of the day.

The academic nerd in me was pretty psyched for this panel, not only because it was something unique to the con experience, but also because it was a chance to contemplate and examine the larger picture of the “geek” media I consume.

The panel consisted of a couple of people from The Mary Sue website and a couple of others who are creative types within the mainstream comic book industry. Although the obvious result of the discussion was ‘yes it would be nice if media represented a greater variety of people’ I still found the panel to be quite entertaining, and funny. I think the most interesting topic brought up during the roundtable discussion was the dilemma, or lose-lose scenario, of introducing a new character into an existing universe and the equally daunting task of re-imagining an existing character to better represent our current times and diverse cultures.

Bad Robot

It’s J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot!

Given the close call with The Mary Sue panel I wasn’t willing to take any chances on the next panel I had my eyes on, “Showrunners”, which meant some quality time camping out in the queue line. However, the good thing about line-waiting at Comic Con is that you’re surrounded by people who are deeply interested in the same thing you are.

Besides the good conversations, our get-in-line-early strategy paid off as we were able to get pretty decent seats. “Showrunners” was part exclusive clips from the upcoming documentary of the same name, and part Q&A session with the the documentary’s director and producer along with some of the featured showrunners including Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire), Greg Plageman (Person of Interest) and Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica).

Obviously Showrunners looked really interesting and I cannot wait for its release in 2014, but getting to learn a bit more about the inner workings of a TV show from some pretty high profile people in attendance was an added bonus. Out of the entire panel and screening, the following quote is what really stuck with me, “You work just as hard on the things that fail as you do on the things that succeed.”

The Zombie Office

The Zombie Office

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no one sets out to make bad TV, so I think that sentiment only further highlights the difficulty of creating and running a successful series, let alone one that is heralded as groundbreaking or game-changing.

By the time the “Showrunners” panel let out, the general crowd had thinned out considerably so we took a quick detour to Artist Alley before making one final trip to the showroom floor.

Last year I never made it over to Artist Alley so that turned out to be an enjoyable stroll despite my complete lack of knowledge for almost all things comic book in nature. One webcomic caught my eye though – The Zombie Office. Check it out, it’s pretty damn entertaining if you’ve got a desk job.

So good times were had by all, and the NYCC fun even spilled over into Penn Station. Two Stormtroopers were standing at the bottom of the escalator giving high fives to all of us boarding the train back to New Jersey. I can’t think of a better way to end the day.

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Super Fun Night Should Focus on the Night

Super Fun Night Should Focus on the Night

I really want to like ABC’s new comedy Super Fun Night, not only because I enjoy hangout comedies (I miss you Happy Endings) and loved Pitch Perfect, but also because I find the show’s premise and Rebel Wilson’s character to be relatable.Super Fun Night

But I’ve got to admit that I was totally underwhelmed by the ‘first’ episode. And I use quotes because ABC swapped out the pilot episode for another episode, one I assumed better represented what the show was about.

And although I’m generally against judging a show based on one-22min outing, I really think Super Fun Night would benefit from just focusing on the night portion of the premise.

The workplace scenes felt like they belonged in another show and I was disappointed that more time wasn’t spent getting to know Kimmie’s friends. And this is where the pilot episode switcheroo may have negatively impacted my first impression. I understand that the show is essentially a Rebel Wilson vehicle, but the series is going to need to establish all of its main players if it wants to succeed. Plus, isn’t it supposed to be about a group of friends?

I personally think Super Fun Night would benefit from a more Party Down approach. Flesh out the characters and then drop them into different situations each week. The show could really have a good time playing with these introverted self-proclaimed nerdy characters. Especially when you think about all of the crazy people they could meet while out in New York City at night.

Right now Super Fun Night is trying to do too much, but that’s not really a unique problem for new a TV show. I imagine the comedy is still trying to feel out what works best, while also trying to figure out what it wants to be.

Selfishly I guess I just hope that it’s what I want it to be, which is a series about a couple of friends who remain true to their nerdy selves while also recording a few social victories on occasion.

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Watch More Than One Episode

Watch More Than One Episode

FOX Brooklyn Nine Nine

The new fall TV season is here! And that means there’s brand-new episodes of our favorite returning shows, and a variety of new TV series to check out!

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Your Guide To Episode Availability on Hulu.com & Elsewhere

Your Guide To Episode Availability on Hulu.com & Elsewhere

hulu TV show availability

The TV season is nearly year-round these days… But since I don’t expect you to watch TV live, I mean we’ve all got places to be and commercials to avoid, here’s a handy guide of where and when to find new episodes from your favorite TV shows. Scroll down for network-by-network information. [Updated: February 2016]

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Fall 2013 TV Guide: Sunday Night

Fall 2013 TV Guide: Sunday Night

TV Schedule Fall 2013 Sunday

New TV Shows on Sunday Nights

Sunday nights are jam-packed with returning network staples this year. Only ABC is using the night to launch a new series – Betrayal, which will air at 10pm, after Revenge. It seems that ABC is sticking with the counter-programming strategy against football.

Animation Domination

On Sunday nights FOX must subscribe to the ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ motto since The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy, and American Dad all return.

Although it won’t happen until Fall 2014, there’s a Family Guy Simpsons crossover episode to look forward to. Apparently Seth MacFarlane’s Griffin family will be taking a road trip to Springfield.

A Night of Drama

Joining Betrayal on Sunday nights are Once Upon a Time, Revenge, The Good Wife, and The Mentalist.

As a fan of Revenge I was particularly pleased to hear that the new showrunner plans to simplify season 3 by cutting back on the numerous nonsensical subplots and to focus more on the revenging.

However, I’ve got less good news for fans of The Mentalist, apparently this season will be the last for Amanda Righetti and Owain Yeoman a.k.a. special agents Grace Van Pelt and Wayne Rigsby.

One last fun fact about Sunday night TV – with the exception of Sunday Night Football on NBC, all other TV shows will return September 29th. Better make room on your DVR, I told you it was going to be a busy night.

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Fall 2013 TV Guide: Friday Night

Fall 2013 TV Guide: Friday Night

TV Schedule Fall 2013 Friday

New TV Shows on Friday Nights

Friday night is notoriously a mellow evening reserved for the quiet yet consistent performers, series in their final seasons, and all sorts of other odds-and-ends that don’t pair well with anything else in the network’s’ line-up.

Just two new-ish shows will debut on Fridays this fall:

  • MasterChef Junior
  • Dracula

MasterChef and Gordon Ramsay certainly aren’t new to the FOX network, but MasterChef Junior is the newest addition to this franchise and will feature contestants between the ages of 8-13 years old. Mostly I’m assuming that this cooking competition will put my cooking skills to shame.

According to NBC, this version of Dracula is a, “sophisticated and sexy take on Bram Stoker’s classic novel…” so that should tell you right away whether or not this series is for you. Also, in this reincarnation, Dracula will be working alongside Van Helsing.

Don’t Forget to DVR These Returning Favorites

There’s a little something for everyone on Fridays this fall. Returning scripted series include The Carrie Diaries, Grimm, Hawaii Five-O, Blue Bloods, The Neighbors, and Last Man Standing.

Nikita’s Final Season

Although no official return date has been announced, the CW’s little-show-that-could is expected to return to the TV schedule later this fall. My guess is that Nikita will return for its fourth season and final six episodes after America’s Next Top Model completes its current cycle.

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