When your network needs more viewers, why not go directly to the ratings source and ask viewers in Nielsen TV panels to give you a boost?
That’s what Oprah Winfrey apparently did in tweeting for her still struggling OWN cable network. One major problem: Such activity is strictly prohibited by Nielsen. Winfrey quickly apologized for the mishap.
“Every 1 who can please turn to OWN especially if u have a Neilsen box,” Ms. Winfrey tweeted after 9 p.m. on Sunday, just as a new episode of her interview show “Oprah’s Next Chapter” began.
Similar Nielsen snafus have happened on and off for years. Last November, on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” the host started an “Occupy Nielsen” effort, asking people to turn on their TV sets when the show was airing. “You don’t even have to watch the show, you just have to put it on,” he said.
Winfrey will get a minor slap on the wrist – an asterisk from Nielsen attached to the time of the incident. Fallon’s punishment was more severe – Nielsen deleted the ratings of the show for that night.
All this explains to many what Nielsen still means -- seemingly for the foreseeable future -- to TV and advertising executives. It is the “currency” for ratings that are attached to the hip of all TV advertising revenue.
Rentrak and other competitors would like the play in the big time -- and finally break Nielsen's virtual domination of the business. Many want a “new currency” for the TV advertising business. We are not sure of the resulting policies regarding manipulation of viewers in those samples.
Given the bigger tweeting world, you wonder why more stuff of this kind doesn’t happen – especially with local TV outlets. In the past, programs and networks have mistakenly advertised or marketed to Nielsen sample homes and received similar punishment.
Sometimes those Nielsen viewers make it easy for stations and networks. Years ago a TV consultant said one Nielsen home in the New York area was having trouble with its Nielsen box. But rather than calling Nielsen to fix the problem, the household called the New York TV station for which he was consulting. Talk about letting a cat into a hen house.
The consultant said the station did the right thing – but there was temptation. Kind of like what Fallon had wanted to do: “Yeah. We wanted to tell them, ‘Okay. No problem. Just leave your TV set on to this specific channel for around a month, night and day, and we’ll get back to you.'”
That would have given someone some extra currency for sure.