Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sweeping Up

Welcome to sweeps.

That means no reruns, lots of specials and special guest stars. It means local stations doing call in contests, giving away money or prizes all in an effort to get you to watch and hopefully, if you have a Nielsen diary, write down that you watched their station.

This is also the time of year when nobody in television news can take vacation. Happens four times a year, February, May, July and November although with network in reruns in July, some stations aren't as hardcore about the vacation thing. The idea is to be fully staffed so in case people watch because of a specific person, that person is there.

And at full staff, stations are more able to do special reports... all in an effort to attract as many viewers as possible and drive ratings as the ratings from this month are used to determine ad rates.It used to be sweeps was about doing the multiple part series, but as a whole, it seems to have evolved into heavliy promotable one night stories.

It used to be (way back when) that these "specials" were more often than not... harder news, investigative, "scare the heck out of you" into watching kinds of stories (that's a generalization, not all stations did this). While some stations do the harder story today, I really think it's more about attracting an audience. So to that end you'll see stories on where to find the cheapest groceries, as seen on TV or one tank trips... or what's it like for a man to be pregnant.

Many of these stories are already tested/done in other markets, put into a booklet and on tape by consulting firms and spread around the country before each rating period, so a station can do their own version of the story. By the way, just so there's no confusion... I can guarantee you that ice tea is bad everywhere, people don't shred important documents and reporters will be able to find them in the trash in every market and, get this, people speed... yes, they break the speed limit (I'm not cracking on anyone in particular because I've done two of those three stories).

By the way, I'm not saying there's no value to any of this. Its just that while I was working in news, it seemed a bit silly that newsrooms would bend over backwards this time of year just because Nielsen is "keeping score" so to speak. Shouldn't we be putting forth the effort ALL year? And some do... so I give credit to news directors who will spend the money/resources/effort for the special reports throughout the year.

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