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CBS Joins Call for Ending Quarterly Ratings Sweeps

December 03, 1996|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CBS celebrated a second-place finish during the November ratings sweeps by calling for an end to the quarterly ritual, which TV stations use to determine local advertising rates.

The network joined a chorus that includes the other networks and some advertisers, who have questioned basing ad rates on months skewed by major programming events and scheduling stunts.

In addition, sweeps represent a financial drain on the networks, which feel compelled to schedule their biggest programming events in November, February and May (a fourth lesser period occurs in July) during an extremely competitive environment, instead of spreading major miniseries and specials throughout the season, when they could promote them better and maximize ratings.

"Instead of putting two miniseries back to back, we would love to be able to program them farther apart," said CBS Entertainment President Leslie Moonves in a conference call Monday.

Moonves, in fact, seized upon the sweeps theme to reiterate that the networks are "shortsighted" in focusing solely on competing with each other while losing audience as a group to cable and other alternatives.

Despite benefits for the networks, eliminating sweeps any time soon appears unlikely. There are more than 200 television markets in the U.S., and only 35 major cities are currently metered by Nielsen Media Research. Other markets rely on diaries mailed out during ratings surveys.

"I don't think you'll ever get rid of the sweeps," said Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus, adding that the ratings service has been "talking to agencies and advertisers about expanding the sweeps as a first step," hoping to diminish the jamming of programs into a four-week period.

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