The time period on Australian television when the Nielsen boxes inexplicably get ignored by commercial networks, and the public is left with the most execrable content that television has to offer.

Before the black box of the Nielsen Ratings System, there were three or four ratings periods per annum where selected families would fill out log books of their television viewing habits. The media would program their blockbusters and popular content accordingly. These ratings periods were generally set around Christian holidays, with the two weeks over Easter and two months over Christmas set aside as non-ratings periods. With the onset of electronic surveillance the importance of log books diminished and ratings could be collected instantly. Yet in the land Down Under, non-ratings period remained. And it wasn't due to devout Christianity

Given that the media are a business and not a public service*, having a periods sans-ratings is hard to explain. Apart from the ability for the networks to give their stable of personalities a summer holiday, non-ratings period is probably more pronounced in Australia due to legislative provisions that require mandatory Australian content on commercial television. To summarise, the Broadcasting Services (Australian Content) Standard 1999,

Whilst the standard does state that Australian content must not simply be relegated to timeslots better used for phone sex advertising, it doesn't specify that the content needs to be shown in ratings periods. As a result, commercial stations produce dirt cheap Australian programs, and show them when they won't be rated. To fill the gaps between the Australian shows, most networks run endless reruns, and the content that even America rejects. The Bette Midler Show, anyone?
* - Apart from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which is a tax-payer funded public service....1 cent a day for independant media!
Non-ratings periods also occur in the States. The description of Australian non-ratings periods is largely accurate, and so won't be repeated.

In general, the ratings period covers approximately 1/4 the time between the end of September (when all the network shows premiere) to the end of May (when they all have the season finales). There are breaks for a few months at a time in the middle, but I've never cared to figure out when they were.

The most interesting thing about non-ratings periods in the States is that they're basicially irrelevant in terms of setting advertisement costs. Obviously, networks have a vested interest in getting the largest possible advertisement revenues, so they run all of their new shows in the ratings periods.

Formerly, this lead to a period of (most notably) Summer doldrums when absolutely nothing new was on television. Similar bouts happened around Christmas and other non-ratings stretches, but they were less severe as some networks have the occasional new show running.

However, this period of doldrums is beginning to change -- many cable stations (such as the SCIFI channel) create original programming. This programming, while often quite good, is usually unable to compete with the big network shows (eg, in the US, Friends, E.R, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire); these cable networks, therefore, often run their programming in non-ratings periods to capture the unfufilled audience.

On a tangent, show seasons are lined up around the Summer non-ratings period. As I mentioned above, a show will tend to premiere in the Autumn and have its season run until Spring, typicially April/May. Since cancelling a show is easiest when the contracts are up for renewal at the end of a season, many shows (all-too-many or not enough, depending on who you ask) fail to return in the fall, especially if their ratings have been sinking.

For a broadcast network, running a show's new episodes during a non-ratings period is usually a sign of deep trouble for the show, like shifting its time slot; networks often do this for soon-to-be-cancelled shows in order to get their airing commitments out of the way, so they can put something higher-rated, like reruns of the top shows, into the timeslot during ratings-periods.

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