1) Make your buying decisions on a quarterly basis. Too much changes on TV to plan it on an annual basis, even the late-night news, but you’ll overpay if you wait too long to buy (or worse, the air-time may already be sold). Your media rep from each broadcast station or cable provider should know enough about what to expect in the upcoming quarter to give you solid information for a 13-week flight about three months in advance.
2) Compare daypart ratings with a comparable Nielsen “book.” With Nielsen (which measures TV viewership), their measurements are delivered in quarterly “books” – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. You should get ratings for the previous year’s book that corresponds with the quarter you’re buying in order to get an accurate reading on what results you can expect.
3) Buy the times of year when you know viewership will be high. Remember that new episodes of primetime shows begin airing in late September, take a hiatus in late November – early December, return to new shows in mid-January, and then wrap up the year in mid-May. Don’t be suckered in by new shows that debut in the summer – you may catch a hit once in a while (e.g., “Dancing With The Stars”), but these are few and far between. Many shows save their best episodes for "sweeps" dates (when Nielsen is measuring viewership), so buy during those times if all else is equal (read: pricing). Remaining sweeps dates for 2012 are Apr. 26 – May 23, June 28 – July 25, and Oct. 25 – Nov. 21.
4) Look at Nielsen ratings for each daypart in two demos – primary and secondary (i.e., primary might be age 18+ or 25+, while secondary might be 25-34 or 35-54). This way, you can separate shows that have a truly broad appeal from those that reach a more narrow group. Your rep can also give you a demographic breakdown by household earnings using Scarborough, although these should be taken with a grain of salt because the methodology depends on the honesty and reliability of each consumer surveyed.
5) Steer clear of rotators. This is true of most media, but especially TV, when viewership changes radically from hour to hour based on programming (or even by the half-hour sometimes). Your media rep will trick you by showing you a huge ratings estimate for the rotator, but that’s assuming your ad will be seen by every viewer during that time frame. In actuality, rotator spots are almost always run on “the fringe” (the beginning or end of the daypart), while advertisers who paid a higher premium will get the good air time in the middle of the rotator.
Methodology of Broadcast Media Measurement Services
Scarborough Research (www.scarborough.com) – Employs a two-stage methodology to collect data. The first stage consists of a 16-minute telephone interview to measure demographics and media use. In the second stage, phone interviewees are mailed a consumer survey booklet and a TV diary to measure shopping behavior, product and service consumption, entertainment, lifestyle and television viewing. Interviews occur 48 weeks out of the year, and data is released twice a year. Sample size varies – for the Salt Lake City market, 2300 adults are interviewed by phone, and of those 50% typically fill out and return the consumer booklet and TV diary. Results are projected to represent all adults age 18 or older residing the DMA (Designated Market Area).
Nielsen Media (www.nielsenmedia.com) – Households are selected for measurement through one of two different methods: geographic selection (area probability sampling) in the national sample and larger markets, and randomly-generated telephone numbers (Total Telephone Frame) in smaller markets. Meters are installed in the home’s TVs, with two types of meters: Set meters capture what channel is being viewed, while People Meters add information about who is watching. Set meters are only used in large to mid-sized markets – in smaller markets, only the seven-day diaries are used. In People Meter households, each person — adult or child — pushes his or her own designated button on a remote control, indicating which member of the household is tuned in. Each year, approximately 2 million paper diaries from households across the country are processed for the months of November, February, May and July — also known as the “sweeps” rating periods. In some of the larger markets, diaries provide viewer information for up to three additional “sweeps” months (October, January and March).