Understanding Local News Sweeps Periods

This is my sweeps series for the month. I am the silhouette on the right.

Being a rookie reporter means that I have a lot of firsts. Firsts for writing different stories, firsts for shooting in new situations, and most recently making my first sweeps piece. I learned all about sweeps in detail during my sales rotation at an NBC affiliate internship two summers ago at WAVY TV 10. During that internship, the head of sales handed me a folder full of charts and information about how Nielson measures viewership. I forget her name now, but she was so kind and answered all of my questions about it. And boy, did I have a lot of questions because I had never heard of “sweeps” before! (My school didn’t offer broadcast journalism classes). Armed with that background knowledge going into my new job saved me from the ultimate rookie moment…going up to someone at KNOE and saying, “What is a sweeps?” Thanks WAVY!

For those that don’t know, basically a sweeps period is when Nielson (an audience measurement company) is paying attention to who and how many people are watching any given channel. In smaller markets, diaries are sent to a random sample of the population. The people with the diaries write down when and what they are watching. In larger markets, television sets are hooked up with meters that automatically record what is watched.This happens four times a year: November, February, May and July.

What does this mean for sales at a TV Station? Well basically, the stations that Nielson says have the most viewers are able to charge the most for commercials. Clients want their commercials to reach a large amount of people, so they will pay the money. So how do stations ensure they will get high ratings? They run packages called, “sweeps pieces” which are a series of longer well promoted stories. The idea is to get viewers hooked to a series and keep coming back for more.

For my first sweeps series I get to do feature stories about small businesses that are surviving against the odds. I love it! We get two days to work on our stories which really enables us to dedicate the appropriate amount of time for storytelling. As a small business owner, I know what it’s like to struggle financially and take risks. I understand what it’s like to have a lot of clients, a huge workload, and limited resources. I feel empathy for small business owners everywhere and am over the moon excited to be spending time with them all month. For my first sweeps package, I went to a hardware store that has been in business since 1941. The store owners opened the store up in what was then thriving downtown Monroe and are still standing even though the shops around them are now boarded up.

Here is that package:


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