New for '09 from Nielsen: March sweep

But her judging gaffe actually could play to program's advantage

Nielsen Media Research said Wednesday that it will move the traditional February sweep period into March next year to minimize the disruption surrounding the digital TV transition.

It's likely the first time that the ratings giant has moved the timing of its quarterly sweep periods. But it's also a measure of the industry's concern over the Feb. 17 conversion to all-digital signals that has the potential of leaving millions of people who use over-the-air TV without a way to watch broadcasts.

In recent years, with the advent of Local People Meters in the larger markets that give overnight ratings, sweep periods have become less important. But in smaller markets, they're still key to setting local TV ad rates. LPM ratings — and national ratings — will continue to be released as they normally would, though the sweep "books" in LPM, diary and metered markets will be produced for March not February. This will allow consumers and Nielsen field staff to convert to digital. Nielsen will have to put a different type of monitor into many homes.

Nielsen Media Research is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.(partialdiff)