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The “Sweeps” start Oct. 30 on TV

Posted 28 October 2014 12:00 AM by Cindy Earehart Rinker

Wake up! It’s time for the November Sweeps!

Wait, you don’t know about the Sweeps? You probably know more than you think. Consider how it seems there are certain times of the year when television is awash with new stuff. Or the current shows have a crazy plot twist that involves a Hollywood guest star or the leaping of the Grand Canyon.

Sweeps happens four times a year and the process sorts the good, the bad and the ugly about our TV diet as judged through the lens of thousands of Americans viewers selected by ratings company Nielsen.

Of course, everything is linked to money. The popularity of shows and networks is proved by the Nielsen families and that popularity is quantified in terms of ad rates. Ad rates are higher for the most popular shows and lower for those less popular.

That is why crazy things happen during Sweeps months which are February, May, July and November. A quick example of this is in soap opera land where Tony Geary (Luke of Luke and Laura fame) is popping up on General Hospital and the long-awaited return of supposedly dead Adam Newman is going to happen on The Young and The Restless after a year of a mysterious hand showing up now and again to either tap pensively or turn into a fist of anger.

These stunts or plotlines ensure that as many eyes as possible are trained on their program. You might even notice that your local news station will get a little bolder during the sweeps by doing a series or taking on a national issue at the local level. Ratings have often by the source of shifts in personnel.

While there are some electronic tracking devices out there, the majority of the Nielsen families keep a written diary just as they did 50 years ago when this process started for TV. Nielsen had been ranking radio programming and setting ad rates before TV came on the scene.  This November, Nielsen will process about 2 million paper diaries.

The coming Sweeps period will start on Oct. 30 and will last through Nov. 26. See if you can identify Sweeps moments on your favorite networks or programs.

Cindy Earehart Rinker, card-carrying TV fan, is supervisor of marketing for Shentel.