Sweeps Periods - What you need to know

QUESTION: What is sweeps and how does it affect television coverage? ANSWER: Start bracing yourself for ratings-grabbing segments, sensationalized series on hidden dangers, guest stars from network programming - basically any news that will help boost audience numbers.

The reason you will see more stunt news casting and “very special” episodes of your favorite programming is because May sweeps is just around the corner (April 23-May 20, 2015).

Sweeps are what advertisers and stations use to determine local ad rates (not so much national rates - those are gathered yearly) and thereby the revenue of the local newscast. So, as you can imagine, this gives stations a huge incentive to get those ratings as high as possible using any means necessary.

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.

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. More than ever they will be asking themselves if your story will engage their audience and help boost their ratings.

The reason they have less room in their rundown for your story is because stations are devoting more time to segments that will increase viewership such as:

  • Sensational weeklong series that you absolutely need to watch so you can find out what is killing you and how to stop it from killing you
  • Promoting other programming on the station (both national and local) via on-air discussions, guest interviews, etc.
  • Uptick of sensational news stories – the old adage “if it bleeds it leads” is never more true than during a sweeps period

So does this mean that you should not conduct a satellite media tour during sweeps? Absolutely not – with the right story, spokesperson and lead-time your segment can be just as successful during sweeps as any other time.

However, if your story does not need to happen during a sweeps period – it is something you may want to consider postponing if the angle, spokesperson or timing is not optimum to break through the sweeps clutter.

So while you need to keep sweeps in mind when planning your next campaign it is not a time period you need to avoid altogether.