What the hell is "sweeps"?

Won’t you please help out a poor English guy, uneducated in the ways of American TV?

Over in this thread, Dopers are complaining that there will be only one new Lost show between the end of November and mid-January because of “sweeps” meaning they have to run 12 of the 22 episodes in November, February and May.

So my questions are -

  1. What on Earth is “sweeps”?
  2. Why do American networks do it? And
  3. If there’s enough time in a year to show all the episodes of a TV show and repeat every episode, why not just have one show run new episodes every week between September and February, and a completely different show in the time-slot for the rest of the year when that one finishes, to make sure that that time-slot always attracts the viewers and thus the advertisers?
  1. It’s a time period where television shows are rated and ranked according to viewership. Because the viewership numbers, and thus ad prices are calculated during this time, networks want to show new episodes so people will be inclined to watch, rather than tuning to a cable program during a repeat. See Wikipedia

  2. Answered a bit in #1, but the logic? Heck if I know.

  3. Because that, you see, would make sense. Honestly, I’m sure money is involved. It is likely very expensive to produce double the shows, when the increase in viewership probably would NOT be double what they get with repeats. It’s the whole pricing/volume profit curve, except for TV.

‘Sweeps’ are the period of time in which the networks have their viewership measured. Those measures are then used to determine the amount networks can charge for advertising on those shows during the course of the next several months or year.

They do it because it (sort of) works. It harkens back to days when we couldn’t get that in real time (if we wanted) the entire year round. Like magazine circulation (which I know better) it’s easier for business purposes to do it all at once than track over time.

It’s the period that competing broadcasters schedule the only two hit shows at the same time. That ruins the ratings for one show and they cancel the losing good show. That makes it easier on the viewers in that only one good show is on weekly. They also take their only popular show after the sweeps and change the time and day it appears weekly, because they think viewers will make an effort to watch that show at 01:00 in the morning one week and then 14:00 the next week on a different day. They can then cancel that show in a month because they lost their viewers, leaving even more time for half hour infomercials during prime time.

Technically not true, but it hits the nail on the head more or less.

Local radio stations like sweeps months because TV stations increase their advertising. :slight_smile:

Truthfully, though, it makes sense to have discrete periods for setting ad rates. These serve as benchmarks, and since everyone uses the same months, it’s really a fairer comparison than every station using their own best ratings period.


But it’s such an artificial benchmark. The networks cram sweeps months with non-standard programming and then use the numbers from the big events to set the rates for the regular programs. And advertisers buy into this phony system, I guess because if they want to advertise on TV they don’t have much choice. Meanwhile, those of us who just want to watch our shows with some sense of continuity are forefully reminded yet again that the product of television isn’t programming for viewers, it’s audience for advertisers.

Yup. Especially for a show like “Lost” that doesn’t seem to do very well in repeats.

I don’t know why the scheduling for Lost seems to be so lousy, but I struggled to watch it last year because of the breaks. This year, I wouldn’t be watching at all if not for my husband. He’s still hooked, but barely.

So they artificially inflate certain numbers at the expense of other numbers and viewer loyalty. Whatever works for 'em, I suppose.

Thanks for the explanations everyone. It still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but I suppose that just probably explains why I don’t work in TV.

It doesn’t make sense to most Americans either. The ad people set their rates by viewing stats and they use the stats from sweeps week only. All networks try to be tops for this short period, and then when it’s over the don’t care about their rating by the public, because they have their rates for advertising now locked in.

The reason for sweeps is expense: it costs money to do a survey, so in order to keep costs down, the ratings agencies only do it four times a year (there is an August sweeps, but TV ignores that.

The cost to do 52 weeks of sweeps is just too much: the TV stations (especially local stations) aren’t going to pay enough to make it profitable.

Why not two seasons? Also expense. The network would be paying for twice as many shows, and probably won’t get anywhere enough ad revenue to cover it. (Actually Fox is doing a little experiment this season: Arrested Development is only supposed to run until January, when new episodes of 24 go on the air).

I would just like to point out that sweeps is primarily for determining the ratings of the local stations. The networks are always taking ratings.

The reason the networks schedule their (supposedly) big stuff during sweeps is to help out their affiliates.

And yes, the fact that sweeps ratings don’t prove anything about regular ratings is known to one and all. But these people don’t care about logic.

As I understand it, 24 is displacing Prison Break at 9:00 EST, not the 8:00 programming.

While two full seasons per year might not be entirely reasonable, it’s not like all the networks don’t build replacement shows into their schedules. Like Prison Break, for example again. It was supposed to be a placeholder until 24 started in January, then amazingly enough started getting decent ratings itself. Which isn’t preventing Fox from screwing it and its viewers by taking it off the air for six months instead of finding nine freaking hours somewhere in the schedule to finish off the season.

Can you tell I’m more than a little pissed about the whole Prison Break thing?

What really bugs me about the sweeps week thing is that it doesn’t take much brains for the Neilsen guys to switch to random month checks rather than fixed, known sweeps periods.

I totally don’t get who benefits from this, other than the networks. Since the advertisers are (theoretically) trying to get the most bang for their ad buck, why the heck accept the sweeps-driven Neilsens, where it’s clear that the numbers aren’t really representative, as a valid source for viewership information?

They’re displacing both: All their fall Monday shows go off the air in January, 24 and **American Idol ** come back, and House moves from Tuesday to Monday.

American Idol, like all reality shows, is relatively cheap to produce, which probably helps keep costs down for the switch. But for dramatic shows and comedies, the cost of running more original programming is not justified by the income. Reruns get tolerable ratings, and cost the network or producers nothing.

Many cable networks and the broadcast networks have daily ratings. This is why a show that’s doing poorly will be yanked off their air after three or four episodes; the networks have instant feedback.

As ftg pointed out, the sweeps period is more for the local affiliates, who can’t afford to pay for daily ratings. You’ll also see breathless anchors teasing “shocking new information” on their nightly news. For instance, in Orlando(ish), did you know that you could be walking on the sidewalk next to someone gasp who’s carrying a concealed weapon! :eek: Tune in at 11 to learn more!

It’s actually July.

Additionally, sweeps always begin on Thursday and run for four weeks. That’s why networks have traditiionally trotted out their biggest guns on Thursday night. Each Neilsen family that keeps a log of TV shows they watched does it for only one week. The thinking is that the family will be diligent for a couple of days and then go back and fill in the rest of the week right before they have to give the diary back. Therefore if you hook them in on Thursday, they might write your network down for primetime later in the week whether you watched or not.

In the larger markets electronic “people meters” are attached to TV’s that automatically send the data back to a central computer. This allows instant ratings or “overnights” to be produced. Local news folks live and die by these.

Advertisers don’t buy into the “phony” system as they are well aware of its advantages and disadvantages of sweeps. What… you think they can’t figure out the above?

If you prefer to make TV pay-per-view for each and every thing you want to watch, go ahead and try. I don’t think many people will go for it though.