More than half the TV markets for which Nielsen Media Research tracks ratings—125 out of 210 markets—will change ranking effective this September, just in time for the new fall season. That's the biggest reshuffling of market rankings in a decade, and it's likely to cause some shifts in TV ad spending, according to TV executives.
Stations most affected will be those falling out of or into market clumps that advertisers tend to buy, said Pete Stassi, senior vice president and director of local-broadcast buying at BBDO/Pentamark, New York. "It really has an impact on planning. A lot of times, planners want the top 10 or top 25 markets," he explained, "and, if you rearrange your rank, you're either in or out of that short or long list."
Many markets will show an increase in their TV-household universe (even some of those falling in market rank) due to population growth. Normally, stations try to parlay that growth in their designated-market-area (DMA) numbers into increased rates.
But, Stassi said, any rate increases are likely to be delayed until the economy picks up. "Stations will—if populations increase—try to raise their rates in relation to their efficiency. I don't think that's going to happen this year, but it will give them fuel for thought for 2003 or the end of 2002."
Nielsen cites population shifts tied to the 2000 census as the primary reason for all the changes. Secondarily, there was an unusually high number of counties—37 vs. 21 in 2000—that were reassigned to different markets to better reflect viewing patterns.
The total U.S. TV-household universe will rise 3%, to 105,444,330 homes, the single biggest annual increase in two decades. When the new rankings kick in, a rating point will equal 1,054,443 homes.
In the top 10 markets, the bottom two, Atlanta and Detroit will flip-flop, with Atlanta going from 10 to 9 and Detroit from 9 to 10.
One market drops out of the top 20, Pittsburgh, which falls from No. 20 to 21
and will be replaced by Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, now No. 21.
Seven markets shifted in the top 20, but only one, Cleveland, rose or fell more than one spot. Cleveland slipped from No. 15 to 17. No markets fell out of the top 50, although Louisville came close, switching with Albuquerque-Santa Fe from 48 to 50.
National advertisers spend all or most of their money in the top 50, according to buyers, although franchises such as fast foods and automakers will spend money in below-top-50 markets where their franchisees are located.
The biggest gainer is Lima, Ohio, which will climb 10 spots to No. 191. Wheeling, W.Va.-Steubenville, Ohio, takes the biggest hit, dropping 10 notches to No. 150.
Nielsen e-mailed the new ranking list to station clients late on Aug.7, and many station managers in affected markets were still trying to assess its effect.
"I do believe there is going to be some impact," said one GM in the Cleveland market who preferred not to be identified. "A lot of buyers buy markets in increments of five, so moving from 15 to 17 puts us in a different tier. I can't tell you the degree of the impact, but one of the first calls I made was to my rep to get his assessment."
Another TV manager in Cleveland said, "Moving to 17 is not a good thing, but a lot of buys are made as top 20, and we're still within that."