National Football League TV programming is just the category to find that confusion: Both CBS and Fox claim their football shows are the most watched this season. Nielsen Media Research, who keeps score of these things, says maybe, maybe not.
The truth is that over the last few years, CBS has grown its audience for its American Football Conference games, which are now almost at parity with the National Football Conference games, which Fox airs. Traditionally, the NFC games have always grabbed the better ratings, and according to Nielsen, and with its traditional metrics--using average viewers per minute and the key selling demographic men 18-49--Fox wins. Fox's average total viewers per minute, for example, yielded 15.5 million a game to CBS's 15.3 million, according to a New York Times story.
Not so fast, say CBS. It claims--through a bunch of advertisements that have since been removed after Nielsen complained--that "more people watch the NFL on CBS than any other network."
Those crazy CBS research executives searched the globe looking for the right numbers to fit that picture. Up came a seldom-used Nielsen metric: total audience, which refers to the cumulative number of viewers (who are counted just once) who have watched at least six minutes of coverage some time during the season. Six minutes--that's enough for a touchdown or two. Perhaps one commercial pod or so. But not a lot else.
Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports, told The New York Times its numbers "can't hurt our sales team."
If that's the case, then I say, level with your advertisers. Networks are still working with TV numbers. Real figures are in dollars and cents--especially in the new age of iTunes and video-on-demand programming. Early-round NFL playoff games could grab anywhere from $200,000 or $400,000 for a thirty-second spot for CBS and Fox.
Perhaps both CBS and Fox should apply that data to sales pitches--not ratings-- in print advertisements to advertisers: "We have $300 million of your money so far this season. Much more than the other guys. Please give us more."
That'll stop the confusion.