Careful viewers might have noticed. During the last week of 2011, they were not watching â€œGood Morning America.â€ Nay, nay. They were watching â€œGood Morning Amer.â€ â€œGood Morning Amerâ€ is a special program and would not be counted in the national Nielsen ratings. The last week of the year also happens to be the lowest rated of the year in terms of viewership. If you can knock that week out of your ratings mix, well, you come close to NBCâ€™s â€œTodayâ€ show, and you can command higher advertising dollars because, well, your show is rated higher. Who couldnâ€™t win the ratings race when you take â€œGood Morning Amerâ€ out of the race?
Oh, and NBC is not as pure as the driven snow. NBC just goes the opposite way. Brian Williamsâ€™ dog of a show, â€œRock Center with Brian Williamsâ€ got a lovely ratings boost when NBC called the networkâ€™s coverage of the January 23rd presidential debate â€œRock Center with Brian Williams.â€ Call a regular show by a different name as a special program and it doesnâ€™t go into the ratings mix. But call a special program that has viewer draw by the name of your regular program, and you get to lop in the double ratings from that night into your otherwise abysmal regular ratings.
Here are the ethical issues. First, unless advertisers are incredibly savvy and up on details, they do not realize they are paying higher rates for something that is an accounting sleight of hand. Second, these networks are relying on a numbers strategy that is nonsustainable. If the shows are not working, the only real solution is fixing the show. You canâ€™t cook the books often enough or long enough keep the ad revenues the same. The networks lull themselves into a false sense of security.
The New York Times reports that many in the industry are worried about the practice but no one is willing to discuss it because itâ€™s the old pot and kettle dialogue. Those who live in glass houses and all. Hereâ€™s a summation of ethics in the industry on this issue, from the mouth of a network program executive, â€œYou do everything you can, as long as you can. And then they slap your hand.â€ These are the same news operations that have covered the scandals in business over the past decade and groused about how they cooked the books thinking that they could keep going. Chuck Prince said the same of the subprime debacle â€“ that as long as the music was playing that he would keep dancing. Dear TV people, the folks in business were doing exactly the same thing you are now doing: Their mantra: Just get those numbers out there and keep it going, even if it is false and misleading. Slaps of the hand in business consisted of jail sentences, owing largely to the fact that it is fraud to lie about your real numbers performance.