Why Seahawks-49ers "Football Rain Delay" was the second-highest rated TV show

Nielsen ratings quirk makes Seahawks-49ers "Football Rain Delay" No. 2 in weekly ratings

9/19/13 in NFL   |   JoeKukura   |   492 respect

Blog Photo - Why Seahawks-49ers "Football Rain Delay" was the second-highest rated TV showDeadspin spun a yarn Thursday afternoon making light of the fact that the Seahawks-49ers rain delay almost won the week in the Nielsen ratings. John Koblin's piece "Football Rain Delay" Drew Higher Ratings than MNF And 60 Minutes notes that the one-hour rain delay beat every other TV show in the weekly Nielsen ratings, except for the Sunday Night Football game itself. The game was No. 1, but the rain delay was the No. 2 highest-rated show for the week of Sept. 9-15 -- ahead of "America's Got Talent", ahead of "Duck Dynasty" and ahead of "Breaking Bad". 

Nobody better tell Walter White about this. There's no telling who he'll have killed if he finds out.

I had to immediately wonder -- why was "Football Rain Delay" considered an actual television show? That is not an actual television show. It seems like nonsense to classify the rain delay and the game itself as separate broadcasts. "Rain Delay" does not even accurately describe the reason for the delay!

Blog Photo - Why Seahawks-49ers "Football Rain Delay" was the second-highest rated TV showMy first instinct was that NBC had changed their Nielsen box feeds to assign themselves an extra show  while the giant national NFL audience was still tuned in. Then they'd have an additional show in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings that week. But I was wrong. The preliminary Nielsen fast national ratings for Sunday night (released Monday morning) do not mention a "Football Rain Delay".  So NBC did not change their line-up as listed on a Nielsen box at the last minute, or it would have shown up in Monday morning's overnights of Sunday night ratings.

Then I figured that Nielsen was just interpreting what the Nielsen Families had hand-written in their Nielsen diaries. Wrong again. Nielsen only uses hand-written diaries during sweeps periods. September is not a sweeps period.

The answer lies in the fact that Nielsen revises the fast national ratings into final national ratings later in the week, taking time delays and overruns into account. The ratings change "as Nielsen releases the 'final national' ratings," according to the Futon Critic. "These are the revised numbers which take into account various scheduling changes from across the country, most notably those due to live events."

Imagine how NBC executives must have hit the roofs of their penthouses Monday when the overnights said that Sunday Night Football ratings were "down 19 percent from last week". Meanwhile, CBS' late-game Manning Bowl audience extended an extra 50 minutes into the primetime schedule. So unfair! And surely that lost 19 percent tuned back into NBC when the weather delay was over, right?

Yes, they did, which is why Nielsen classified "Sunday Night Football" and "Football Rain Delay" as two different broadcasts. The NBC audience jumped by nearly 3 million when the game came back on (curiously, right at the top the hour). It's rare for a delay to have significant viewership, but this anomaly did. And in order to provide granular data of great value to advertisers, Nielsen must accurately record which broadcasts have how many viewers -- anomalies and all.

Seriously, though Nielsen, call it for what it is -- it was a lightning delay.

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