TV networks are misspelling shows on purpose to tweak Nielsen ratings

Some days are worse for television ratings than others, and TV networks know this. Nielsen stands chief among data companies when it comes to TV ratings, and so it is perhaps no surprise that networks have found a way to game the system. As it turns out, some networks are deliberately misspelling the names of their shows on days they know are likely to have poor ratings, helping preserve their ratings and their public image.

Nielsen utilizes an automated system that collects ratings data on shows based on the shows' names. It only goes to reason, then, that someone could trick the system by spelling a show incorrectly, causing the automated system to view it as a separate show. That is exactly what is happening, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that many networks are guilty of this.

One example is NBC, which misspelled its news segment for Memorial weekend's Friday broadcast, a time when it was safe to bet that ratings would be low. Instead of listing it as 'NBC Nightly News,' according to the WSJ, the network misspelled it as 'NBC Nitely News.' This kept the show's average viewership high, helping it close the ratings gap with competing 'ABC World News Tonight.' Over the 2016 – 2017 TV season this past autumn, NBC is said to have played the misspelling game 14 times.

The network doesn't deny engaging in the practice of deliberate misspellings, with an NBC News spokesman telling the WSJ:

As is standard industry practice, our broadcast is retitled when there are pre-emptions and inconsistencies or irregularities in the schedule, which can include holiday weekends and special sporting events.

Other networks have done the same, such as CBS using 'CBS Evening Nws' and ABC using 'Wrld New Tonite.' While some network executives told the WSJ that these ratings are only used for publicity and not to determine ad rates, some ad executives countered that they are frustrated with the practice and the differing numbers it produces.