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Comcast/NBC Caught Intentionally Misspelling Show Names To Help Hide Sagging Nielsen Ratings

The cable and broadcast industry goes to some amusing lengths to downplay cord cutting and streaming competition's impact on ratings and subscriber totals. Initially the impulse was just to insist that cord cutting wasn't real. When the data made outright denial impossible, the industry began insisting cord cutting was only something done by irrelevant nobodies living in mom's basement or Millennials who would see the error of their ways once they procreated. Of course data repeatedly showed that these people were the norm, and now we're looking at potentially one of the biggest quarterly subscriber losses in television history.

As ratings have reflected the industry's dying cash cow, they've also taken consistent aim at viewership measurement systems as well. A bone of particular contention has been Nielsen, which is stuck between trying to accurately measure the damage and cater to myopic cable and broadcast clients that can't hear well with their heads buried firmly in the sand. A few years ago, Nielsen was forced to stop publicizing the rise in broadband-only (not TV) households. More recently, ESPN tried to publicly shame Nielsen when the company accurately highlighted the massive subscriber exodus happening at the channel.

But the cable and broadcast industry has been engaged in some other notable shenanigans to try and protect the illusion that everything is going swimmingly. The Wall Street Journal indicates that the industry has increasingly been going so far as to intentionally misspell their programs in program listings. Why? Because when they know a show is going to see a ratings dip, listing it under another name prevents its core listing from being impacted in the Nielsen ratings:

"That explains the appearance of "NBC Nitely News," which apparently aired on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend this year, when a lot of people were away from their TVs. The retitling of “NBC Nightly News” fooled Nielsen’s automated system, which listed “Nitely” as a separate show. Hiding the May 26 program from Nielsen dramatically improved the show’s average viewership that week," the report adds. "Instead of falling further behind first-place rival 'ABC World News Tonight,' NBC news narrowed the gap."

The Journal goes on to note how this has been a sort of "open secret" in the industry for several years, but as cord cutting has begun to accelerate, its use has increased. At one point, NBC intentionally misspelled "NBC Nitely News" every night for a week. And all of this appears to be happening with the blessing of Nielsen, which again tries to walk a tightrope between being taken seriously as a rating metric system and keeping paying cable and broadcast clients happy with manufactured tales from fantasy land.

For its part, NBC issued a statement that features a number of words, but at no point addresses the issue at hand:

"As is standard industry practice, our broadcast is retitled when there are pre-emptions and inconsistencies or irregularities in the schedule, which can include holiday weekends and special sporting events,” a show spokesman said."

Granted that sounds so much nicer than "we intentionally misspell our own programs to try and pretend our industry isn't facing a massive revolution we're ill-prepared for."

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