CBS News has been leaning on a ratings trick that all networks use a lot this summer

By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links

CBS News has been leaning heavily on a ratings ploy known as “retitling” during the summer of 2021.

Retitling is a practice that’s been used at one point or another by most major networks. The concept is simple if not sneaky: By changing the spelling or formatting of how a show is “titled,” or named, for ratings purposes, it, at least in the eyes of Nielsen, becomes a different show.

Technically all it takes is changing one character in the title for the show to become rated this way.

This means that a broadcast with lower than usual ratings doesn’t count toward that week’s averages, which often helps improve how the ratings look for a particular time period.

CBS, for example, has been retitling “CBS Evening News” as “CBS-Evening-Nws” on many Fridays this summer.

Fridays tend to be a low rated day in general and the network could have anticipated that in its decision.

“Evening” has been the perennial last place network newscast for years, so any ratings tricks aren’t likely to make it jump to second and third place, but it likely does make averages look better, at least on first glance.

What this means is that, for much of the summer, “Evening” was rated based on four days of data — as opposed to five for ABC and NBC.

Shows can be retitled for more than one day a week, but it’s typically more advantageous to exclude only the day likely to be the lowest rated.

Other networks use similar misspellings: “NBC Nightly News” can become “NBC Nitely News” and “ABC World News Tonight” changes to “Wrld New Tonite,” among other variations used over the years.

Other national newscasts employ similar tactics — with CBS’s “Face the Nation” becoming “Face-Nation” multiple weeks this summer or “CBS Sunday Morning” appearing as “Sunday Morning-Alt.”

Many cable and satellite providers and other listing services ignore these retitling efforts (or they don’t make it onto the published grids in time). In most cases, a change to a show title can cause it to stop recording on DVRs — causing viewers to miss their favorite shows.

These alternate titles also typically don’t appear on air in the show’s open or title card — and there’s no rule saying it has to, so the practice will go unnoticed by most viewers.

Of course, using this trick requires the network to have at least a reasonable expectation that a particular edition of a broadcast won’t do well in the ratings ahead of time. It could be because it’s going up against a major sporting event on another network or a competitor’s show has a big “get,” or guest, that is likely to attract more eyeballs that it might get otherwise.

Most networks justify the practice by saying it’s more important to provide advertisers with a “fair” representation of ratings that aren’t affected by anomalies in the schedule (though advertisers can easily see when the trick is employed by looking for alternate titles and, with some simple math, figure out the “actual” ratings).

Another trick sometimes employed is to remove all national commercial breaks from a broadcast because when a program doesn’t have national breaks, it’s not counted toward national ratings (the show still can and often does have local breaks with ads inserted by cable and satellite providers and local stations).

There doesn’t appear to be a specific reason why CBS is taking this trick to what many would consider an extreme this summer — other than its already lower ratings in general likely getting hurt by Friday, Olympics and other slumps.