Daylight Saving Time Seems To Affect TV Ratings

One week last spring, TV ratings in prime time went down across shows and networks about 10 percent. It was the week daylight saving time started, presumably because people were spending more time enjoying the evenings outside than in front of the TV. Will the phenomenon work in reverse in the fall?

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A mysterious phenomenon around this time of year seems to affect television ratings and with them, a lot of broadcast revenue. On Sunday, we'll turn our clock back an hour and go off daylight saving time. According to TV industry lore, this seems to have a big effect on how many people watch television. NPR's Neda Ulaby investigates.

NEDA ULABY: It's true, says Bill Gorman. He helps write a website called TV By the Numbers.

Mr. BILL GORMAN (TV By the Numbers): We headlined a post last spring: Networks Fear the Sun.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Last spring was when "American Idol" hit a historic ratings low - right after daylight saving time started. Suddenly, it's light outside for an extra hour. Watching TV is less appealing.

(Soundbite of TV show, "American Idol")

Mr. RYAN SEACREST (Host, "American Idol"): Nice to have you with us.

ULABY: Now, "Idol" had been hemorrhaging viewers pretty steadily, but it was not alone. Following daylight saving, the shows "House" and "Chuck" both dropped 17 percent in ratings from the week before, among adults aged 18 to 49. Not every show suffered a ratings dip, but Gorman says the trend generally held.

Mr. GORMAN: We saw, last season, about a 10 or 11 percent fall in the 8 p.m. hour the Monday after daylight savings time came back.

ULABY: And conversely, when we move our clocks back on Sunday, daylight saving may actually help TV ratings. Every year in early November, they jump.

Bill Gorman, of TV By the Numbers, says that's probably partly due to local sweeps and special fall programming, but the chillier season's conducive to staying inside and cocooning.

Mr. GORMAN: I think television networks would like it to be dark as soon as you left the office and headed home for the night. And maybe it started raining or snowing a lot as soon as prime time began.

ULABY: Come spring, TV network execs will be secretly singing this tune.

(Soundbite of song, "If I Could Turn Back Time")

CHER: (Singing) If I could turn back time...

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, "If I Could Turn Back Time")

CHER: (Singing) If I could turn back time. If I could turn back time. Oh...

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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