I’m No. 1.
According to the ratings, I beat CNN, MSNBC and Fox News in primetime. CBS, Lifetime and ESPN Deportes too. My box office sales topped "Harry Potter."
“Flackback” is TheWrap’s most popular blog. And even better, my TVQ score shows I’m personally more beloved across America than Tom Hanks, Sully and those Evian roller babies. Combined.
How can I make those claims?
Because I know how to twist data to make me look like the winner.
The actual hard numbers determined by Nielsen, Arbitron, ComScore and other services are what they are. But the research staffs at the studios, networks and other entertainment companies are wizards at finding ways to contort them to tell the most perfect stories.
Then, the marketing department is tasked to create the most legitimate looking ads — think pie charts, bold graphs and “War is Declared”-sized fonts — and the publicity team is sent charging to spin the same tale to every gullible media outlet out there.
For instance, although The Oprah Winfrey Show is apparently losing viewers at a pretty serious rate, CBS is probably producing ads, press releases and advertiser/affiliate one-sheet analyses to prove how solid the talker is. (The show, not Oprah personally.)
Or a cable network in hot and heavy competition with other nets might do an ad/on-air promo campaign touting its new #1 ranking between 8-10pm.
Of course, if you notice the tiny asterisk next to the ad’s claim, follow it to the bottom of the page and pick up a magnifying glass to read the seven-pitch type, you might see the qualifiers. Such as the fact that the numbers reflect women 37-39. Whose birthdays fall in August. And whose surnames begin with O’.
Which brings us to CNN and the flap over its latest ratings boast, a campaign that has the network swearing to God it’s “#1 with more viewers than Fox and MSNBC.”
If you’ve been following this controversy — which makes the pissing matches between the Real Housewives of New Jersey seem intelligent — you know that in fact, both Fox News and MSNBC are currently beating CNN ratings.
And that CNN’s basing its claim on some voodoo calculations that ran (oops!) without any sourcing or qualification in the ads. If you can follow CNN’s explanation as to how it determined this achievement, you’ll see it manipulated a fraction of data that no one takes seriously.
Beyond that, you’ll have to read up on the backstory yourselves because I find it just too tiresome.
But you can’t make fun of CNN without being equally annoyed at Fox News and MSNBC, who do the exact same thing whenever it suits their needs, despite them both crying Wolf Blitzer right now.
And who even file complaints with the ratings services, force recalculations of numbers or even threaten to cancel contracts when figures don’t come out to fit their needs.
And direct your anger as well at the broadcast and cable networks, the syndication companies, websites, labels, studios, distributors and any other parts of the industry that rely on ratings data and uphold their right to massage them at will.
Be pissed off too at Nielsen, Arbitron and the like who rake in millions of dollars from entertainment clients and in turn allow them to perform more questionable surgery than Michael Jackson’s doctors, with very little regulations, pushback or reprimand.
I hope CNN and the other two cable news nets read the comments posed in the media coverage of this latest story. Not only are people turned off by the incessant bickering over ratings minutiae — which a wonderful journalist friend once brilliantly described as “like watching teddy bears wrestling” — but they don’t care.
No one I know makes a program, film, music, news outlet, magazine or website choice based on whether it’s trending up five percent with men 18-34.
Instead, the public listens to friends, seeks out influential bloggers and social networks and — believe it or not — even samples independently. That’s how people discovered things like Colbert.
The little impact that this ratings boasting and bickering might’ve had in the past on audience decision-making is totally irrelevant now. Advertisers are hip to the charade as well, especially when they know a highly-trumpeted 12 percent gain often translates to .021 more viewers.
Money’s tight. Revenues are down, costs are up. Entertainment and media companies should put their budget where it does them good: in better content and more effective delivery.
The cable networks in particular could certainly redirect their costs for ratings-spinning to more foreign coverage, more investigations and enterprise reporting, more science, health and the arts.
More reporting from outside of the NY/DC/LA nexis that doesn’t involve a shooting spree or missing little blonde girl. And while you’re at it, invest in more experienced program producers who know how to book guests beyond that same fraternity of one-note talking heads.
And know that this comes from a member of the Women 25-54 group living in one of the Top 10 Nielsen DMAs. Whose demos are trending up.