Media Money with Julia Boorstin

Do May Sweeps Matter?


It's that time of year again — TV networks are pulling out all the stops to boost ratings.

family watching tv

May Sweeps is one of four months through the year in which Nielsen measures every local TV market every single day.

It's historically been a key way to set ad rates, so TV networks traditionally hustle to one-up-each other with flashy specials and season finales.

Sweeps still matter some, but they matter a whole lot less than they used to. Now Nielsen measures the top 25 markets, nearly half of local affiliates and certainly the most important ones, EVERY SINGLE DAY. So advertisers have plenty of other information to evaluate when negotiating prices for those top 25 markets.

For the rest of the markets this month matters more.

The networks consider this a crucial month not just for Sweeps, but because it's a crucial time to snag eyeballs and ad dollars as the season wraps up, before TV viewing drops during the summer.

Series Finales will headline May Sweeps this year. The end of "Lost" and "24" should give ABC and Fox each a boost. Ads in Lost's final episode are going for as much as $900,000, more than four times what a Lost ad cost during the Upfront ad period last fall. Fox is asking $650,000 for a 30 second spot in 24's final episode, three times a regular "24" ad. And though "American Idol" isn't ending, this season is popular host Simon Cowell's finale, before he moves on to "X-Factor." Interest in Cowell could drive ratings and prices for his final "Idol" appearance even higher than usual.

In addition to a slew of season finales, the networks are *creating* events. CBS heavily promoted Conan O'Brien's interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night. It worked — the show won the time period both in terms of total viewers and the key 25-54 year-old demographic. NBC has been heavily hyping this week's Saturday Night Live, which will be hosted by Betty White.

Another factor at play — the networks need to build momentum going into their Upfront ad sales period to marketers, which kicks off May 17. If your network is dominating ratings, it makes it a bit easier to convince marketers to decide to advertise on your shows. This year advertiser demand seems to be coming back in a big way, all the more reason for networks to scramble for a bigger piece of the pie.

Questions?  Comments?