Maybe the boycotters simply didn’t have any A.C. Nielsen Co. families among their numbers during national “Turn Off the TV Day,” but ratings released Wednesday by the audience measurement firm indicated that most of America watched on Tuesday night the same as they always do.
As a matter of fact, more people were glued to the tube than on the same date one year ago, according to Mike Eisenberg, vice president for audience measurement at CBS.
“It doesn’t seem like it had any effect at all,” Eisenberg said.
Last year, he said, 63.4% of all households in the nation’s 25 largest markets had a TV set switched on during prime time. On Tuesday, when a coalition of groups critical of prime-time sex and violence urged a viewer boycott, 64% of those households were watching.
The national ratings put the tune-in figure even higher--at 68%. ABC spokesman Jim Brochu said the number was lower than the previous week’s figure of 74.7%, but a World Series game was being played that night. In comparison to most Tuesday nights during the first six weeks of the fall season, he said, “Turn Off the TV Day” was actually one of the best-watched for most prime-time programs.
ABC’s programming did particularly well, Brochu said. “Roseanne” got its highest rating in more than a year and “Coach” scored its highest rating ever. The “Coach” episode, ironically, dealt with the conservative college football coach portrayed by Craig T. Nelson coming to grips with having a gay player on his team--just the sort of programming that some members of the “Turn Off the TV Day” coalition had hoped to discourage.
Betty Wein, a spokeswoman for New York-based Morality in Media, one of half a dozen groups that organized the viewer boycott, said they would reserve final judgment on its effectiveness until all the detailed Nielsen ratings were in and analyzed later in the week. But she offered this initial assessment Wednesday:
“Whatever the Nielsen ratings say, we feel like it’s been a big success. We’re estimating that at least 1 million people turned off their sets.”
Wein questioned the validity of the Nielsen measurement system, which relies on a combination of viewer diaries and 14,000 peoplemeters that are scattered in 212 markets across the nation to tell networks and advertisers how many people are watching.
“All I can say is that everyone in our office turned off our TVs,” she said.
The one-day boycott had been endorsed by Morality in Media, the National Coalition Against Television Violence, Americans for Responsible Television, Concerned Citizens for Quality Television, the Christian Film and Television Commission in Atlanta, the National Christian Assn. and the American Family Assn.
Vicki Riley, the Delaware housewife who conceived of the “Turn Off the TV Day” campaign, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Wein said that the boycott had enough of an effect to encourage CBS News to seek an on-camera interview with Morality in Media President Kevin Beattie for Tuesday’s “CBS Evening News.” She said that Beattie, a lawyer and former member of the CBS legal department, declined on grounds that appearing on TV on the very day of the boycott might be misconstrued as a violation of the effort.
CBS News did cover “Turn Off the TV Day” by interviewing students at a New York parochial school that supported the boycott, Wein said. The network sent a complimentary videocassette of the segment to the Morality in Media offices Wednesday.
“I don’t know if NBC or ABC broadcast anything about it because I didn’t watch television on Tuesday,” she said.