Replay rule helps 'Heroes'

Unduplicated viewers boost ratings

NEW YORK -- NBC is the first network to take advantage of a rule change by Nielsen Media Research that will add audience to Monday's premiere of "Heroes" from a Saturday replay.

Beginning this week, Nielsen agreed to count the unduplicated viewers watching a replay in the same broadcast week in the ratings of the original broadcast as long as the national commercial content remains the same. NBC will do that Saturday night, when "Heroes" will air with the same national commercial load. There won't be any rating given for Saturday's telecast, with the unduplicated viewers being added to Monday's already high ratings. An added benefit is that NBC will be able to throw out what would most certainly be a low-rated hour from its average week.

Those conditions aren't likely to happen much this season, but owing to Nissan's single-sponsorship of "Heroes," it gave NBC the ability to meet the conditions.

Nielsen said he rule change was made because of the changing landscape of television viewing; a similar procedure is sometimes done in syndication. Nielsen and its clients agreed to the change in the summer but agreed to not discuss it until a network took advantage of the opportunity, which will happen this week.

The announcement of the change caused something of a stir Tuesday in ratings circles, though the key players were aware of the change well ahead of time. Most of its rivals weren't concerned about NBC doing it because it's not likely to be a regular occurrence. But executives said the ability to throw out an hour, particularly a low-rated one, threatens to alter the ratings currency.

"It makes them less valuable and open to manipulation," said one executive who asked not to be named. It could also change the outcome of closely watched ratings chases.

Most of the other networks, even when they repeat episodes on Sunday, won't take advantage of the change because it's too difficult to have the same national advertisers in the second airing. CBS, for instance, will rerun "Moonlight" and "Cane" on Saturday, but the advertisers will be different. ABC can't do it at least through the fourth quarter because of Saturday's college football commitments.

NBC said it's likely to be only a special event and not a regular occurrence because of how hard it is to coordinate.
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