CNN, Fox News Channel clash over ratings

A skirmish over ratings for coverage of the terrorist attacks on the United States broke out Wednesday between all-news cable rivals CNN and Fox News Channel reports Electonic Media.

With national ratings for Tuesday's coverage delayed until after at least 5 p.m. (ET), CNN released Nielsen data collected from the 51 metered markets that represent some 46 percent of the American TV universe.

After CNN issued the overnight ratings, Fox News Channel issued a blistering statement attacking the release of partial numbers and accusing CNN, whose research department has more than once in recent weeks put out information that had to be amended, of having "a reputation for distorting numbers, a despicable practice made more disappointing during a national tragedy such as this."

The statement from Fox, which is not carried in Philadelphia, parts of Washington and some other metered markets, said, "As all TV writers know, this measurement does not impart a true ratings picture."

"We have received more than 20 requests for ratings," a CNN spokeswoman said. "Everybody wanted what we didn't have," she added, referring to the national ratings.

The 51-market ratings showed that from 10:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. (ET), the coverage on CNN/U.S. averaged a 6.1 rating, followed by Fox News Channel with a 2.4 rating and MSNBC with a 2.1.

CNN also added up the available data for all rated sister channels that simulcast its coverage and said the cumulative audience averaged a 10.0 rating during the 10:30 a.m.-to-2 a.m. time frame.

When the national ratings arrived, they showed CNN with an average 4.4 rating for the hours of 6 a.m. to 3 a.m., Fox with a 2.4 and MSNBC with a 1.7. In the prime-time hours of 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., CNN averaged 5.9, followed by Fox with 3.7 and MSNBC with 2.6.

In New York, where most stations had their transmitters atop the World Trade Center and lost their over-the-air signals after the twin towers were destroyed, WCBS-TV, which had its transmitter on the Empire State Building, dominated.

The CBS flagship, which has languished at the bottom of the ratings heap for several years, earned double-digit ratings from around the time the second airliner crashed through midnight and peaked between 6:45 p.m. and 7 p.m. with a 21.7 rating and 29 share.

But even the stations that couldn't broadcast over the air were available via cable-some 76 percent of New York City is cabled-so other local stations also attracted substantial audiences.

NBC moves premiere week to Sept. 24: NBC has officially announced that it will move the start of its fall season from Sept. 17 -- the original start date sanctioned by Nielsen Media Research -- to Sept. 24 in the wake of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Other networks are said to be talking about delaying the start of their 2001-02 seasons as well. Nielsen representatives plan to call all the networks Thursday to see what kind of consensus there is in delaying the start of the season.

Sources think the other networks are possibly pulling for an early-October start, similar to last season's, which was pushed back by NBC's telecast of the 2000 Summer Olympics from Sydney, Australia. Consensus among the networks and advertisers may be building for uniform, delayed start dates that would minimize the disruption to prime-time entertainment programming.

Jack Loftus, senior vice president of communications for Nielsen, confirmed that the ratings data company will "sit down and talk to the networks about it and we'll see how they feel as clients and how we should proceed under the extenuating circumstances." Mr. Loftus said the shuttering of Nielsen's Manhattan administrative offices, which are expected to reopen Thursday, had precluded it from discussing the situation with advertisers.

Meanwhile, as fallout from Tuesday's attacks continues, the Big 4 broadcast networks are keeping up wall-to-wall news coverage in place of their daytime, prime-time and late-night lineups. Keeping with CBS's decision to pre-empt the second episode of "The Amazing Race" and the series premiere of its "Wolf Lake" drama Wednesday night, the other networks are similarly shelving entertainment programming for at least another 24 hours.

A spokesman for The WB said that network is going ahead with plans to premiere its Friday night comedy lineup Sept. 14, although it could be subject to pre-emption as breaking events merit. The WB, which is overseen by Turner Networks Chairman and WB head Jamie Kellner, has been providing feeds of Cable News Network to its broadcast and cable affiliates, some of which may already have reciprocal news-feed agreements with CNN in place. For example, Tribune-owned WPIX-TV in New York and KTLA-TV in Los Angeles have been interspersing local news with CNN news feeds at their discretion.

Starting Tuesday night, UPN began offering its affiliates CBS News' national news feed but plans to return to regularly scheduled repeats of "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Special Unit 2." However, if events continue to break Wednesday night, a UPN spokesman said the network will again offer the CBS news feeds and will give affiliates the option to pre-empt for local news programming.

Early Wednesday, Nielsen's data-processing center in Florida, which is unaffected by the closure of the New York headquarters, gave the networks access to fast affiliate and metered market ratings beginning with coverage Tuesday morning of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"The fast affiliate numbers are preliminary and have not been conflict-checked with the local affiliates picking up national network feeds and making local insertions," Mr. Loftus said. "I expect by the time we can reconcile the local and national conflicts that we won't have final ratings [starting Sept. 11] until early next week -- at the earliest."

Networks shift promotional gears: Fox has decided to indefinitely discontinue any on-air promotional spots for its upcoming "24" action drama. With uninterrupted news coverage already precluding the airing of promo spots, Fox felt the spots for "24," which include a scene of a terrorist bombing on a commercial airliner, would be ill-timed given recent events. And CBS is similarly holding back promo spots indefinitely on its CIA-based drama "The Agency."

NBC officials did not confirm or deny rumors that it was scrapping a planned "Law & Order" miniseries dealing with a terrorist threat in New York.

NBC preliminary ratings winner: After some delay due to the extended live breaking coverage of terrorist attacks yesterday in New York and Washington, preliminary fast affiliate ratings from Nielsen Media Research presented a mixed picture of national news feeds and local inserts.

On a very preliminary basis, NBC News and its local affiliates held an edge in the household and key demo ratings from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) last night. All told, the Big 4 networks tallied roughly 60 million total viewers and 40 million households during prime time.

Ratings for the cable networks were not available on a local or national basis. And fast affiliate ratings don't include The WB or UPN, which picked up news feeds from CNN and CBS, respectively.

During prime time, the mix of local and national feeds from NBC affiliates drew a 13.6 rating/20 share in households, representing 22.4 million total viewers. ABC and its stations came in second with an 11.2/16 household score and 17.6 million viewers. CBS and its affiliates posted a 9.6/14 household score and 14.4 million viewers. During its typical 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. prime-time rotation, Fox -- offering up Fox News Channel's cable-based national news feeds to its affiliates -- registered a 3.5/5 household mark and 5.5 million homes.

Once Nielsen is able to calculate and reconcile between national and local news coverage, the final national ratings -- not expected to be released until early next week -- could be significantly different from the preliminary fast affiliate numbers.

In the key adults 18 to 49 demographic, NBC and its affiliates (9.2/19) held a commanding 37 percent advantage over what ABC and its stations (6.7/14) averaged in prime time. CBS and its local stations came in third with a 5.3/12 from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., while Fox registered a 2.1/4 in adults 18 to 49 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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