Nielsen ratings rule gets rewrite

No more 'Heroes' -type piling on

NEW YORK -- Nielsen Media Research has reversed its rule change that allowed NBC to add ratings to "Heroes" in its season premiere from an identical rebroadcast later in the week.

The move, announced Tuesday, will go a long way toward satisfying Nielsen's clients who were unhappy not so much that "Heroes" was boosted but that NBC got to drop an hour of low-rated primetime ratings out of its weekly averages.

Now both the original and the repeat rating will be reported, unlike on Saturday, Sept. 29, when NBC re-aired "Heroes" at 8 p.m. and the unduplicated viewing was added to its Monday premiere. Nielsen said NBC followed the rules but that its other clients were upset about the consequences of the change.

"Clients told us that it was essential for the ratings to the individual telecasts to remain available so that the viewing to each telecast can be analyzed separately and to ensure there is no ratings gap in any time period," Nielsen said in a client letter. "In addition, clients commented that the ability to combine two telecasts should not be allowed unless the option was available for all national media types."

Because of the way cable networks are distributed, they can't be given the same opportunity as the broadcast networks.

NBC executive vp Alan Wurtzel said NBC did not ask for the change to be done in the first place and had no position on the switch after "Heroes." He rejected suggestions that NBC had done anything underhanded, noting that the rule change was discussed and then agreed upon in the middle of the summer.

Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman said that Fox had asked Nielsen for both Monday and Saturday ratings for "Heroes."

"Both NBC and Nielsen should release the information so we're basically back on track," Beckman said. Nielsen won't do that, the company said.

Nielsen noted that it will continue to look at the issue. One idea would be to try to give networks the ability to have flexibility in reporting in today's landscape.

"We're going to see how we can incorporate changes that allow everybody to compete on the same playing field," a spokeswoman said.