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Clearing Up The Confusion Through the Mist


I was on WBEN this morning trying to explain where the Buffalo News went wrong Sunday in exaggerating the ratings success of the Nik Wallenda walk on ABC Friday night.


And it was a big success for ABC – for the summer.

Nik Wallenda Walks Across Pittsburgh

Nik Wallenda: ABC's Friday Rates Soar

One of the reasons I wrote Sunday’s blog explaining the newspaper mistake was to try and make sure other media outlets didn’t repeat it. So I was happy to clear up the confusion this morning on the No.1 radio news station in town.

I might be the one of the few people here  who could have figured out the problem. The News wrote Sunday that “the prime time stunt attracted 13. 1 million viewers, making it the highest-rated non-sports telecast on the major networks in six years.”

That statement was ridiculous on its face. The overnight rating in the major markets Friday for the two-hour program was 6.2, led by the 34.1 rating in Buffalo. Scores of programs during the regular season from September to May top the 6.2 national rating on a regular basis. (The national rating for the Wallenda Walk that includes smaller markets arrives late this afternoon).

So I looked at the ABC release about the show’s ratings and discovered where the paper went wrong. The release noted the two-hour program that started at 9 p.m. “stood as the most-watched non-sports summertime (Memorial Day-Labor Day) telecast on the major networks since at least 2006.”

In other words, The News dropped the key word “summertime,” which made all the difference in the world in its statement. Summer network viewing drops substantially from the regular season, especially on Friday nights. Friday is one of the two lowest-viewing nights of the week, which helps to explain why ABC reported it had its highest-rated Friday night in almost five years.

The News also confused the term “most-watched” with “highest-rated.” There is a big distinction because ratings points are worth more households and viewers every year because of population increases and other circumstances that increase the annual number of TV households. Additionally, more people can potentially watch two hour programs like the Wallenda Walk or three hour programs like the Super Bowl than watch half hour comedies or hour dramas.

Just about every year, the Super Bowl becomes the most-watched television event in history even though it often doesn’t make the Top 5 or Top 10 in highest-rated Super Bowls.

The News also most likely understated the millions that watched the two-hour program. The 13.1 million viewers it attracted were only those in the final 30 minutes. It most likely attracted more than that overall during the two hours.

To put the Wallenda ratings in more perspective, the hour-long October 2009 episode of “The Office” that featured Jim and Pam’s wedding in Niagara Falls had a 5.1 national rating. The NBC program annually attracts more people who earn $100,000 a year than just about every network program.

I haven’t heard that “The Office” promotion for the Falls helped tourism that much if at all, which is why I’d be skeptical that the Wallenda Walk will be a cure-all, either. On the other hand, ABC’s evening visuals of the Falls were so spectacular it wouldn’t be surprising if it helped tourism to some degree. “The Office” wedding couldn’t supply those visuals.

A tale of two network newscasts: ABC spent about three minutes or so on its Saturday night national newscast highlighting the Wallenda Walk. CBS gave it about 30-45 seconds. NBC was carrying the U.S. Open golf tournament and didn’t have a nightly newscast.

Am I the only one who was annoyed by the commentary and hyperbole from ABC’s Josh Elliot? He was the king of hyperbole, with such comments as when Wallenda went through the mist that it started to seem like “the impossible.” At the top of the 10 p.m. hour, ABC’s telecast also seemed to exaggerate the perils to Wallenda’s life considering it understandably made him wear a safety harness.

Am I also the only one who wished that Elliott and Hannah Storm had let Wallenda concentrate rather than ask him silly questions during some stages of the walk? Of course, I have trouble chewing gum and walking.

 Am I the only one thinking about New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow during all of Wallenda’s religious references during the walk? It was interesting to hear his father ignore those comments during their discussions and often seem to be trying to change the subject back to focusing on the walk.

Wallenda truly did the nearly impossible. Thanks to ABC’s lead-in and a rating that hit a high of 48.5 on Channel 7 at 10:30 p.m, he made the station’s Eyewitness News No. 1 at 11 p.m. for the first time in recent memory. It had about a 20 rating, which is four or five times its usual average and the kind of figure it had in its glory days with Irv, Rick and Tom.


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4 responses to "Clearing Up The Confusion Through the Mist"

  1. Doug says:

    They should connect the other end of that wire down in the gorge so people can use it as a zipline :) – #Tourism

    • Andy says:

      >Am I also the only one who wished that Elliott >and Hannah Storm had let Wallenda concentrate >rather than ask him silly questions during some >stages of the walk? Of course

      That part drove me nuts!

  2. Patrick says:

    Okay, but is anyone actually surprised ABC hyped it as being way more significant and dangerous than it actually was?

  3. Matt says:

    I absolutely agree about Wallenda’s dad seemingly ignoring his son’s religious comments throughout the walk. It did seem odd to me. I also thought it was odd how Wallenda would jump back and forth between the religious comments and then real-time analysis of his walk.

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