Cartoon Network Ratings Mixed
And How To Read A Press Release
An AOL/Time Warner media site posted on May 30, 2001 a press release (headlined, "Cartoon Network Charts New May Total Day Ratings" with the sub-headline, "Prime Time Delivery of Households and Tweens Also Set New May Records") heralding (among other things) that the Cartoon Network, "...set new May total day ratings and delivery network records, posting double-digit ratings and delivery growth across households and all key kids demographics."
A netizen, "Sam," received the press release before it appeared on AOL/Time Warner's site and posted it on saiyanz-rage.net where he is a contributor. Sam tells us that the story was posted on the saiyanz-rage.net site on May 29, 2001 but that they delete news after it is 4 days old.
The story was also posted on Planetnamek.com June 3 as "Z-Day Boasts Huge Ratings", on Anime News Service on June 5 as "Cartoon Network News" and on pojo.com June 8 as "Toonami and Cartoon Network Ratings Up!" We then noticed how different discussion groups on the web started talking about the increased ratings.
While most of the press release seems factual (at least the parts we've researched) it is very misleading. The Cartoon Network's ratings are actually mixed, with some gains and some notable losses.
As usual we cannot print Nielsen ratings which haven't been published before. We've been given access to them so long as we don't post them. We can describe them but cannot quote them. However, enough ratings have been published so that fans could get a total picture. Plus, AOL/Time Warner's press release reveals far more than it intended. (The Cartoon Network Research Department could respond at anytime if it should wish to do so.)
Broadcasting and Cable magazine reported in the story "Toons' Sibling Duets," written by Allison Romano (with additional reporting by Joe Schlosser) and dated May 21 that, "Cartoon Network's strength is its late-afternoon action-and-adventure "Toonami" block, which in April posted a 1.2 overall Nielsen rating of 849,000 households and 2.4 ratings among boys 9-14." This was when Toonami was on in the late afternoon for more than 2 hours.
Going against its "strength" WB-TV moved Toonami to 5 to 7pm on Monday, May 14 where the block dropped in ratings. Without 2 or 3 anime shows as a lead-in, the number one show ("Dragonball Z") also dropped in ratings but is still much higher than the block's average.
The claim of the rise in ratings from AOL/Time Warner does not compare Toonami ratings. They are comparing the 5 to 6pm ratings from a year ago. Of course the ratings for 5 to 6pm are higher, the (very temporary) rise was from adding a half-hour of one the network's top rated shows, "Dragonball Z." (Can you name what was on at 5:30 to 6pm in May 2000?) Ironically, "Dragonball Z" at 5 to 5:30pm was down from last year and from April. But when you lump the two half-hours together, the hour averages much higher from a year ago.
Further, the ratings & households cited are for one day only, May 25, and for one hour only, 5 to 6pm. The network did not want to publicize how Toonami performed during any other time, day or week.
The most telling, direct comparison is in the 9-14 age group. In April, ALL of Toonami averaged a 2.4 with BOYS ONLY. In May, their number one show, on their best day, for only one hour could only hit 2.7 with BOYS AND GIRLS. (There are actually much bigger drops but they are harder to explain.)
Fans could also note how the household numbers overlap at around 9-12 years since the network has lost so much of the fringe ages. (Overall, their biggest concern is the erosion of adults because of the Kids' WB programs--a real turn-off. The network hopes to win them back with a new block called "Adult Swim.")
Instead, the network claimed that they had set records for total day ratings in May which is true and for the most part not misleading. However, it should be noted that for most of the month, most of Toonami was on before 6pm. And due to some erratic scheduling, some fans ended up watching some non-Toonami shows in addition to watching Toonami.
The rest of the press release has more misleading information.
Back in August 2000, Daily Variety reported that, "The Cartoon Network scored its best numbers ever last week, tying for first place in primetime among all cable networks with an eye-opening 2.1 rating in cable homes."
Compare that to May, where for one week, they could only get a 2 hour block up to a 1.8 with the rest of primetime even further down. (And another annoying comparison of a special program to a non-special program in a slot a year ago.)
Yes, they won one week but lost the month and their position.
To be fair, Sweep months, such as May, are not for Cable Networks. We would expect them to get better ratings in non-Sweep months (especially with the new, original series they've got coming up).
So, in summation, all the Cartoon Network is claiming is that "Z Day" had great ratings compared to a normal day a year ago and that their Day schedule in May (which included over half a month of Toonami) also did better than a year ago.
(In July, another press release had even more misleading information but it did not concern Toonami. The network boasted of more daytime gains but at the expense of cannibalizing their primetime repeats & home video sales of their original shows.)
We wonder why this press release was ever written. Generally, they are ignored by media buyers (the people who buy commercial time for advertising agencies) and are usually directed at the public-at-large via the consumer press (you know, normal newspapers).
Such press releases are meant to put the best face on a bad situation and to spin public perception to sample a network. In other words, to give you the impression, "Look at what all these other people are watching! It must be good! You're missing out on something!" The movie companies do the same thing when they advertise, "The Number One Comedy In America!" (even though it maybe only 3rd or 4th because some action, special effects or dramas are doing better).
But we could not help but notice how this press release wasn't slanted for the public-at-large and instead seemed to make an appeal to current and former Toonami viewers who are online. Other than the anime sites listed at the top of this article we could not find any business or consumer publications or online sites that picked-up this story--probably because they knew better (their reporters could tell how misleading it was) and that it wasn't directed at them. Yet a number of anime online sites did.
It appears to us that the event, "Z Day," and the press release was aimed at the online audience in an attempt to keep Toonami viewers from abandoning the network. WB-TV doesn't want to lose any viewers. It would prefer to wean the audience off of the Japanese shows and onto AOL/Time Warner--owned series. (A desire we understand but are not crazy about.) So to Joseph Swaney, Steve Rice & Courtenay Purcell who wrote the press release, you get an A+.
But we are not here to cover such a story nor to critique anime news sites. In fact, we have otherwise loved the coverage on other sites and have found most of them very useful.
However, in this one particular instance, this press release was an attempt (and a successful one at that) to help mislead the online anime community--making our lives a little harder. (Some fans don't understand what's happening at the network and why we have to find another one.)
So what we'd like to suggest is that anime news websites should consider what a press release claims. Be careful of the headline you choose and why not offer some analysis? Likewise, we would like to suggest that fans consider what it is they're reading, whom it comes from and why.
We hope that the Cartoon Network changes its programming and scheduling so that Toonami could grow again.
We would like to thank the companies & individuals which provided us with the data for this story, and understandably, do not wish to be identified. However, a surprising amount of Nielsen ratings has been published and can be used to ascertain just which network is ahead or behind for almost any time of day or night. Other networks can be just as misleading in their press releases, so we would recommend taking a hard look at just which claims are being made.