Sweeps - What you need to know
QUESTION: What are sweeps and how do sweeps affect television coverage? ANSWER: Start bracing yourself for ratings-grabbing segments, sensationalized series on hidden dangers (that will likely kill you), guest stars from network programming and basically anything to help boost audience numbers.
The reason you will see more stunt-news casting and “very special” episodes of your favorite primetime drama is because sweeps are the largest deciding factor for determining local ad rates (not so much national rates that are gathered yearly) and thereby the revenue of the local newscast – which gives stations a huge incentive to get those ratings as high as possible using any means necessary.
You may not have heard the old newsroom adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but it never may be more true than when it comes to sweeps periods.
So what does this mean to you and how does it affect your story making it on air? Because of sweeps, local television news programs have less airtime that can be dedicated to sponsored content and are much more picky during these periods as to what type of segments they will book.
There are four sweeps periods every year – February, May, July and November. But, generally the May and November are considered to be more important – followed by July and then February.
You don’t have to avoid sweeps periods at all costs – but certainly if it is not necessary to your message that the story to out during sweeps you may want to consider choosing another more “friendly” time to book your interviews.
But don’t fret – there is hope should you need to get your story on air during sweeps. To counter the challenges of booking during sweeps be sure to get out there early with your story. Usually the optimum lead time for a satellite media tour pitch is 6 weeks – but during sweeps that changes to about 8 weeks. The earlier you are able to start outreach the better you are to beat the competition to the punch.
And, as always be sure to make your segment stand out. This is never more critical than during a sweeps period. Think celebrity spokesperson (as long as the celeb fits the message), novel tips and fun twists on dull topics so that your segment stand out and be sweeps worthy.