In most cases, typos are cause for ridicule, but TV networks have found a way to put them to much better use. According to The Wall Street Journal, major networks like NBC and ABC have intentionally misspelled program names in their Nielsen lineups in order to deflect low ratings. Apparently, the networks do this to prevent soft numbers—for holiday weekend watches, for example—from mucking up the week’s average. The errors aren’t exactly egregious, as they usually involve dropping a letter or two in the titles, so that The CBS Evening News becomes CBS Evening Nws. But it’s enough to throw off Nielsen, and allow networks to turn in higher ratings numbers to their advertisers than the public.
NBC has also deployed this tactic, unless NBC Nitely News has really replaced the Nightly News, which has drawn the ire of ABC recently. The practice isn’t expressly forbidden by Nielsen, either, so several networks engage in it to offset lower performances ahead of long weekends and preemptions. “It’s a little bit of gamesmanship,” said Bill Carroll, a longtime TV industry consultant tells WSJ. “It’s a practice that happens with a wink and a nod.” It’s not the only way the networks have padded their numbers—sometimes the term “encore” is used in place of “repeat,” so that Nielsen treats those episodes as new ones, which bolsters a show’s average.
At this point, though, the use of title typos has increased enough that Nielsen is going to address the retitling next week at a meeting for TV industry reps, whom we presume will not have a little fun at everyone’s expense by playing anagrams with their names or the networks’.