QUESTION: What are sweeps and how do sweeps affect television coverage?
ANSWER: Start bracing yourself for ratings-grabbing segments, sensationalized series on hidden dangers (that will likely kill you), guest stars from network programming and basically anything to help boost audience numbers.
The reason you will see more stunt-news casting and “very special” episodes of your favorite primetime drama is because sweeps are the largest deciding factor for determining local ad rates (not so much national rates that are gathered yearly) and thereby the revenue of the local newscast – which gives stations a huge incentive to get those ratings as high as possible using any means necessary.
You may not have heard the old newsroom adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but it never may be more true than when it comes to sweeps periods.
So what does this mean to you and how does it affect your story making it on air? Because of sweeps, local television news programs have less airtime that can be dedicated to sponsored content and are much more picky during these periods as to what type of segments they will book.
There are four sweeps periods every year – February, May, July and November. But, generally the May and November are considered to be more important – followed by July and then February.
You don’t have to avoid sweeps periods at all costs – but certainly if it is not necessary to your message that the story to out during sweeps you may want to consider choosing another more “friendly” time to book your interviews.
But don’t fret – there is hope should you need to get your story on air during sweeps. To counter the challenges of booking during sweeps be sure to get out there early with your story. Usually the optimum lead time for a satellite media tour pitch is 6 weeks – but during sweeps that changes to about 8 weeks. The earlier you are able to start outreach the better you are to beat the competition to the punch.
And, as always be sure to make your segment stand out. This is never more critical than during a sweeps period. Think celebrity spokesperson (as long as the celeb fits the message), novel tips and fun twists on dull topics so that your segment stand out and be sweeps worthy.
As we approach Election Day, I question why there are so many political ads despite people’s constant complaints about them. But, it’s really quite elementary:
- Political ads are a cash cow for TV and Radio Stations. Stations are in business to make money and they are making hay while the sun shines: an estimated $1 billion will be spent on political ads this mid-term election cycle, according to Wesleyan Media Project; and
- Political ads actually work! Studies have shown that the candidate who spends more on their ad campaign wins. According to a 2012 study conducted by the nonprofit United Republic, the candidate with more money won the race 91% of the time.
As political ads start to flood our airways, we can’t turn on the TV or radio without seeing or hearing one. In fact, during the 2012 campaign, TV viewers had to endure more than 3 million political ads (source: politico.com).
This ensuing ad traffic jam will last until Election Day, which begs the question: is there any room left for the airing of TV and Radio PSAs? Yes, there is! While there is no denying that political ads will have some impact on the number of PSA airings, we have found that there is still a good amount of ad space left for the airings of PSAs. Political ad buying has become more targeted with less blanket media buys. This shift in ad buying opens up blocks of ad time for PSA airings.
In addition, demand will always exist for PSAs from PSA Directors. Yes, even during an election cycle. And, once a PSA gets into a station’s rotation, it tends to stay in rotation and the number of PSA airings will simply just ebb and flow around an Election Day. The rules regarding a PSA’s demand/airings, even in an election year, remain basic.
And, I actually see a real benefit to PSAs airing during an election cycle. Juxtaposed against a negative, sensationalized and unappealing political ad, a PSA only becomes more appealing and trustworthy. Viewers/listeners could be more inclined to head to a non-profit’s website to learn more about an organization and maybe even make a donation!
Non-profit organizations can take advantage of people’s dislike of political ads and seize this opportunity – they too can make hay while the sun shines.
I always had an attraction to big rocks. At each home I owned, I was lured to a rather large rock by my house, where I would sit on and think. I made it a place where my daughter and I could talk. We called it our “special rock.” It was a sacred and safe place. Today, my now 8-year-old asks to talk on our rock when she has a question. Cool, I think. Weird, to others….
Never knew why I was drawn to a rather large rock. At age 42, through yoga, I am learning that rocks actually help ground us. Who knew??? Anyone who knows me would agree that Shari definitely could use a little bit of grounding…. Maybe I should have sat on the rock longer! Hey, it’s never too late.
What I am learning as I train to be a yoga instructor – in my spare time – is that rocks actually are very spiritual places that help us become one with earth. Root ourselves. Apparently, sitting on a rock could help you find your own super power… apparently, everyone has one! It could help us find answers.
If you are unsure of your super power, take moments to sit in silence, on a rock!!! All by yourself. Leave the phone in doors, no matter how hard that is. And, it is super hard because then I can’t see who texted me or posted a picture of their daughter in a cheering outfit on Facebook…and tell me how great their life is… blah blah blah….
Giving ourselves space and silence is a gift we give to our mind and souls…and let’s not mention to our clients and staff, all of whom will all gain clarity from our grounding since that’s where our creativity and our super powers come from. The ability to sit in silence and not feel anything. Just think. Letting our minds wonder. Some people call this being lazy. I call this creative idea generation… or using positive vibrations from a rock – earth – to be intuitive.
So, as the leaves turn colors and it gets darker earlier, I challenge my PR and marketing PEEPS to take time to sit on a rock and ground yourself, while there is still daylight. Think in silence. Away from the computer, away from the office. Maybe an answer will come to you…. maybe an answer that you didn’t know is even in question.
More soon on positive vibrations.
Keep them coming please!!
After a comprehensive review of news station broadcasts in several markets, we were able to determine how much time is devoted to different topics.
Typical 60-Minute Newscast
As you can see from the above – the bulk of an average 60-minute local news broadcast is geared towards the local viewer with coverage of the local news, sports, weather and traffic.
This does not leave much left of the pie for your segment to make air. Just over 20 percent of the news rundown – about 2-4 minutes of a 30-minute news rundown and 6-9 minutes of a 60 minute rundown – is dedicated to feature stories (health, business, entertainment, kicker).
The audit also revealed that celebrity stories (other than breaking news about the celebrities themselves) do not make the news that often. In fact, stations in smaller markets rarely, if ever, covered celebrity news.
BREAKING THROUGH THE CLUTTER:
Most of the news desks we contacted confirmed that they gain a portion of their news from outside sources (b-roll pitches, media alerts, news services, etc.) on a daily basis. But because their audiences demand that the program focus on local events/news /weather/sports – there is not much time left in the rundown for feature type stories. And, the competition is fierce – with many of the hundreds of pitches made to stations each day not making it beyond the assignment desk.
So, how do you compete to break through the clutter and get your story on the news? News desks across the country provided us with some solid insight into how a story is assessed internally and the questions that are being asked before a segment makes air.
- Is there a sponsor and is the story overtly commercial? If yes, does the news value/appeal outweigh the commercial aspect of the piece?
- Will the story appeal to the majority of my audience? Is it news they can use?
- Is there a way the story can be teased to gain viewers for my news program?
- Is there a local angle to the story?
- How much time do we have to devote to tell the story?
- Will our audience be better served (tune in) with an interview segment?
- Do we need outside visuals for the story – or will a reader do?
- If it is an event b-roll. Are visuals so quirky and amusing that the location of the event does not matter?
So what does this all mean? Simply, it shows us that the newsroom is like a business – and their business is getting local audiences to tune is so that their ratings and revenues increase. When developing a news or interview segment, it is imperative that we take into account that stations are also our customers and create segments that will appeal to their audiences.