Monday, May 10, 2010

25 years ago in TV ratings PART 2: November 1985 Nielsens for animated shows in the weekday early fringe time period reported by independent stations

As I uncover more and more television ratings reports in old issues of Variety magazine a couple of things become clear to me. First, ratings were reported in a number of ways at a number of times. There were three main reporting periods-February, May and November. However, judging from ads placed in broadcast industry publications like Variety and Broadcasting, networks also had access to weekly and monthly reports not widely reported anywhere. The reports also divided up information based on time period and channel affiliation, so whether a show aired on an independent or network station affected its ratings just as much as what time of day it aired. The second big realization I had was that ratings like most statistics can be interpreted a number of ways. Since the data reported comes from these brief windows in time and is parsed in a number of ways, Nielsens can make the same show seem either relatively popular or a ratings loser. Ratings analysis depends then on how you look at the numbers, so a broad, overarching measure of the popularity of a show like The Transformers is tough to ascertain when the data comes in one drip at a time. With the reporting periods 3-5 months apart, a show may have been consistently good or bad in the interim and it would go unnoticed on the all important Feb/May/Nov sweeps reports. Despite these limitations some very important conclusions can be drawn, not the least of which being that a lot more people were watching Challenge of the GoBots 25 years ago than they'll admit to today.

The last time I blogged about ratings numbers I took a look at the May 1985 reporting period. That was a tough one to start with because all I had to go on to determine show popularity was the overall household rank based on share. But starting with the November 1985 reports two new columns were added-Kids' Share and Kids' Rank. This changed everything and made my analysis much easier. Now I was able to rank cartoons based on their kid popularity, which is really all that matters for the kind of analysis I'm trying to do. Here then are the top ten shows based on Kid Rank from the November '85 Nielsens during the early fringe (Monday through Friday from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.) time period:

Kids' Rank/ShareHousehold Rank/ShareProgram# of StationsNov '84 ShrFeb '85 ShrMay '85 Shr
01/3916/10Woody Woodpecker & Friends3778
02/3505/11Diff'rent Strokes30111210
02/3523/09Tom & Jerry31086
06/3202/14Three's Company10141513
08/3108/11G.I. Joe7310119
08/3122/09Scooby Doo25111110
10/3014/10He-Man & the MotU50111010

Some of the shows tied for rank based on their share of the kid market, as was the case with 2nd, 6th and 8th place. For purposes of my chart I used the overall Household Rank as the tiebreaker. I also included Household Share because that's the number the previous rating period columns (the last three on the far right side) use so it's easier to see overall trends. The trends are suspect to me, though because again Nielsen has prior historical ratings numbers for shows that hadn't aired yet. For example, She-Ra shouldn't have November '84 ratings because it hadn't aired yet. Likewise, Thundercats shouldn't have anything from before January of '85. I still don't know where they got those ratings that shouldn't exist.

Without the Kids' Rank it was hard to track the popularity of these shows with their target audience. In the May numbers (which only used overall Household Share) animated shows barely cracked the top ten. But when rearranged this way it becomes very obvious that children loved watching cartoons and animation dominates this top ten instead of being the exception. One thing that remained constant from May to November was that Woody Woodpecker was still the highest ranked animated show. I do remember watching a lot of Woody Woodpecker but I never realized he was more popular than any toy based cartoons in the ratings for a little while. Most of the toy cartoons here in the top ten (with the exception of He-Man) were making their Monday-Friday run debuts in fall '85 so this is truly the beginning of the battle of the toy shows. Transformers does exceptionally well here, ranking fourth not just in Kids but also in overall Household Rank. The magic doesn't extend to all robot shows, though, and the next highest is Challenge of the GoBots which comes in at #22 as we see in the next chart...

Other Animated Shows Outside the Kids' Top 10

Kids' Rank/ShareHousehold Rank/ShareProgram# of StationsNov '84 ShrFeb '85 ShrMay '85 Shr
15/2838/07Bugs Bunny4455
22/2433/08Challenge of the GoBots34999
31/2041/06Super Friends5111010
40/1549/04Inspector Gadget12766
41/1450/04Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors30554

I didn't feel like typing the entire list out to 54 places like I did last time so I included only animated shows outside of the top ten. Robot shows didn't do relatively well overall compared to other cartoons, with classics like Voltron, Robotech and Tranzor-Z near the bottom of the list. The GoBots at #22 is actually very respectable. Voltron on the other hand was on the downslide as it fell to 37th place here and didn't deliver the same ratings World Events Productions was able to promote back in the same ratings period a year earlier. Robotech doing so relatively poor is interesting because this show is consistently mentioned by Japanese animation fans as being the show that got them into anime. (Yet Tranzor-Z beats it in the ratings and I've never heard anyone say nowadays that Tranzor-Z was their gateway anime show.) Robotech is another show for which there are ratings from months that it hadn't aired yet. Even worse, the 6 share reported here for May of '85 contradicts the actual May '85 report which said it had an 8. I've found it wasn't uncommon for a show to have a certain share rating and then see that number change as reported in the next report's prior history columns. But at this point I'm willing to just overlook those inconsistencies and write it off as me not being knowledgeable enough about the ratings process to interpret it all properly.

Next time I'll continue with November 1985's numbers from network affiliates. For some reason the network top ten kids' shows had pretty much the same cartoons but in an entirely different order and with different share numbers. Since the networks had other more popular programming not all of the shows that made the independent list were on the network top 50. So it should be fun to see how what was popular on independent stations may not have done as well on the networks and vice versa.


Shawn Robare said...

As far as there being rating for shows before they officially aired, I wonder if the Nielsens had access to Network test statistics? I'd be willing to bet that either the networks or the studios tested these shows prior to air, and I'd also bet that if the numbers where high enough to justify airing the series they'd want to share it with reporting agencies. Heck, they might even utilize the Nielsens to run or at least compile the data for these tests...

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I wish I knew because it's driving me crazy. I feel like not having an understanding of that one bit of information undermines my credibility and everything I'm trying to do here.

Hooper_X said...

Here's a thing on Woody Woodpecker - I'm assuming # of Stations means "number of stations across the top 100 markets running this program." If so, then three out of the top 100 markets were running WW, and it was pulling a 33 share amongst kids. That could mean that WW was just running in markets 12, 58, and 99, but was the ONLY kids' show in those markets and fucking killed.

My knowledge of how to read a Nielsens chart only goes so far - I can see if some of my TV friends know how, though.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I think you're right and I suspect there's a lot more beyond what is shown here affecting the relevance of the "number of stations" figures.

I imagine having a show in one giant market can equal or exceed even the combined highest ratings of many smaller markets. I probably should have included the ratings points for each show, since that number corresponds more directly to actual eyeballs than any share percentage.


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