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In Network Battle, ABC's Iger Is Polite

September 27, 1996|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The television networks try to beat each other's brains in nightly when it comes to ratings, but an effort is being made to maintain civility in their war of words.

Capital Cities/ABC President Robert Iger sent a message to his staff earlier this week reminding them that their ratings press releases should not attack the other networks.

The missive came in response to an ABC release Tuesday on prime-time results for Sept. 16-22, the first week of the new TV season. The announcement noted that CBS' lineup--which nosed out ABC for second place in the Nielsen standings--was "the oldest-skewing schedule in 16 years."

That reference prompted a flurry of phone calls, including one from CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves to his close friend Ted Harbert, chairman of ABC Entertainment. Moonves stated publicly at a luncheon earlier this month that the networks were being counterproductive in bashing each other, especially with cable chipping away at their audience.

An ABC spokeswoman said Iger acted unilaterally after seeing the release, calling his message "a reminder to let us know to stay on the high road."

CBS has increased its ratings by appealing to an older audience, which is less attractive to major advertisers. ABC still ranks second in younger demographics behind NBC but has seen its ratings fall sharply compared with last year.

The spin associated with the weekly ratings has become increasingly elaborate, in part because of the different criteria involved. Although most newspapers report the number of households tuning in, the networks tend to focus on the 18-49 and 25-54 age brackets, which are paramount in determining advertising rates. Another standard is total viewership, which reflects the actual number of people watching.

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