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Last night on his radio show, Matt Drudge provided a compelling example of why we were so concerned last year that Brian Stelter of TVNewser surreptitiously changed the way he was reporting Nielsen data, a change which had the effect of inflating Keith Olbermann's ratings. Drudge read over the air the then-most recently available cable news rating data (Thursday May 10th) lifted from TVN and in so doing overstated Olbermann's viewers by about 10% in total viewers and over 30% in "the demo". This in an effort to prove wrong a caller who was arguing that Olbermann was a big success.
What was originally justified as a "slight" difference between traditional ratings data and a new set of ratings data called "live plus" has now mushroomed to the benefit of two shows (Countdown, Scarborough Country) on one network (MSNBC). Surprised? We're not.
Readers will recall that last July that we caught Brian Stelter red-handed fudging ratings data on TVNewser (read the comment thread for the exchange). We then provided a fairly technical analysis for ratings data as a follow up. At the time some questioned why we made an issue what Stelter described as a "slight" difference between the traditional ratings and the new "live plus" ratings he had slipped into his coverage of the cable news industry.
In the case of Olbermann, the issue is political. The far-left have gone to great lengths to promote Countdown in the hopes of using the show to counter conservative claims that there is "no place" for liberal talk in cable news or radio. Olbermann's ratings are constantly cited as "proof" that America supports a far-left political agenda. Their data source is always Stelter, a closet-lefty and admitted fan of Keith Olbermann, who is widely seen as a flack for MSNBC, in general, and Keith Olbermann, in particular. It has long been our concern that Stelter is a cog in a much larger far-left machine - his job to supply "proof" of Olbermann's success which can then be recycled on blue blogs, talk radio programs, television critics' columns and elsewhere in the liberal media.
As we pointed out last summer TVN changed from using LIVE ratings data to something called LIVE PLUS SAME DAY which is regular old Nielsen numbers plus people record and watch a show on their DVR/TiVo on the same day. This follows a previous switch away from featuring the traditional P2+ ratings (total viewers) and a focus on A25-54 ratings (viewers ages 25 to 54). In the latter case he defended the move by arguing that he was reporting the information ADVERTISERS cared about. In the former, he failed to even disclose that he had switched data sets. In both cases, the finagled data always managed to benefit MSNBC more than any other network and Countdown with Keith Olbermann was always among the biggest beneficiaries.
When Olbermann Watch called him out after months of misleading his readers, TVNewser began running a disclaimer but never went back and corrected many months of older posts or disclosed what he had done or issued any kind of clarification or correction on TVNewser. By that point, advertisers had soundly rejected the attempt by television executives to foist inflated ratings data on them; unable to defend the switch to LIVE + SAME DAY on the tired "it's what advertisers use" , Stelter was left to offer the utterly lame excuse that, according to him, MSNBC evaluated Olbermann's success based on LIVE + SAME DAY ratings so using L+S data was a good thing.
Our advice to Drudge and anyone else looking for accurate, "agenda-free" ratings data? Bookmark Inside Cable News which provides straight up reporting of the nightly cable news ratings and steer clear of TVNewser.
Recommended Reading: TVNewser's propaganda techniques