Friday, August 13, 2010

NBC News: Pimps & Liars

On Wednesday's Nightly News broadcast, Ann Curry was absolutely thrilled to tell us about "America's newest singing sensation"--a 10-year-old girl who sang on Tuesday's "America's Got Talent". Since "America's Got Talent" airs on NBC, this "news story" amounts to nothing more than a 30-second promo for the show. But of course, that wasn't the end of it. The following night, we were treated to an additional two-and-a-half-minute story about little Jackie Evancho. Curry introduced this story by saying, "And finally tonight that little girl behind that astonishing voice that has people shaking their heads in wonder all over the world". (Actually, Curry said "extonishing", but that's a subject for a different blog.) Correspondent Kristen Welker began the story by saying, "America couldn't believe its ears when this very big and seemingly seasoned soprano voice came out of a very small girl on NBC's 'America's Got Talent'". Look--there's Jackie's audition tape! There's an interview with AGT judge Howie Mandel! There's a clip of Susan Boyle! Wow! Sadly, this is what passes for news on Nightly News. A promo clip for an NBC show. This would be like a doctor referring patients to an MRI facility that the doctor owns. Or a city housing inspector telling a business owner that she needs structural work done, and then offering her the services of his own construction company. It is corrupt, unethical and completely inappropriate. NBC is basically using their news broadcast to pimp for their other shows. It's surprising that the American news-viewing public hasn't stormed the Nightly News soundstage with torches and pitchforks, demanding that they stop using their news broadcast to shamelessly promote NBC entertainment shows. (Another example: On Wednesday's broadcast, we were shown a 2:15 story about the new Johnny Carson website, where Carson DVDs are for sale. I think it's a safe bet that NBC earns some money from the sale of Carson DVDs. This "news story" also featured clips of Jay Leno and "expert" commentary from Jimmy Fallon, so it also served as a promotional vehicle for The Tonight Show and Late Night.)

During Thursday's "America's Got Talent" story, Welker told us that "on any given night, there are 12 million people watching". But according to one of NBC's very own press releases (reprinted on the website for TV By The Numbers []) NBC claims that the Tuesday (8/10/10) AGT had 10.5 million viewers, and the Wednesday (8/11/10) AGT had 10.7 million viewers. Additionally, also according to TV By The Numbers, the Tuesday (8/3/10) AGT had 9.56 million viewers (from 9-10 PM) and 10.81 million viewers (from 10-11 PM). The Wednesday (8/4/10) show had 9.96 million viewers. None of those shows reached 12 million viewers. So Welker's claim is disputed by NBC's own press release, as well as by Nielsen. I guess Welker and her producers are just plain old liars.

But of course lying about ratings is nothing new for Nightly News. Last Feb. 13, Brian Williams took time out from his broadcast to crow that the previous night's Olympic Opening Ceremony had attracted 68 million viewers. Nielsen puts the viewership for that night at 32.6 million, less than half of what Brian claimed. On March 1, Brian said that the U.S.-Canada gold medal hockey game was "one of the most-watched sporting events in television history" with "just under 35 million viewers". (Nielsen puts the NBC viewership for that game at 27.6 million.) Brian's unsubstantiated claim is dubious at best. Every Super Bowl has had more than 35 million viewers, so the gold medal hockey game was not likely to be "one of the most-watched sporting events in television history". In fact, it wasn't even the most-watched Olympic hockey game. According to Nielsen, U.S. network viewership for both the 1980 U.S.-Soviet Union semi-final game (the "Miracle on Ice") and the U.S.-Finland gold medal game exceeded the viewership for the 2010 Vancouver hockey final. But why should Brian let the facts get in the way of his chest-thumping and bragging. By the way, Brian never reported that NBC lost $223 million on the Vancouver Games. I guess he must have forgotten to mention it.

But what I really love the most is when Nightly News lies about their own ratings. As I'm fond of pointing out, whenever Brian and his producers anticipate that any of their broadcasts will achieve a lower-than-expected rating (such as when Brian has the night off), they will submit those shows to Nielsen intentionally misspelled as "Nitely News". When that happens, Nielsen tabulates the lower-rated "Nitely News" broadcasts in a separate category from the higher-rated "Nightly News" broadcasts. That way, the lower-rated shows don't detract from the higher-rated shows. So if Monday and Tuesday's "Nightly News" with Brian Williams earns an average 8.0 rating and Wednesday through Friday's "Nitely News" (with substitute anchors) earns an average 6.0 rating, the weaselly producers will claim that "Nightly News" had an average rating of 8.0 for the entire week. Since higher ratings translate to higher ad rates, the network benefits financially from this deception. So next time you hear Brian Williams or anyone on Nightly News claim a particular rating for an NBC program, take it with a grain of salt. In fact, take it with a twenty-pound bag of salt.

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