Do Olympic TV ratings "count"? To the 15 million Australians who've seen the Seven Network's Rio coverage, this might seem like a strange question. But among our biggest commercial broadcasters, a battle is brewing over this very issue. Traditionally, networks exclude the games fortnight when assessing their yearly performance. The reason: Olympics cause weird viewing behaviour among so many. Rio's opening ceremony drew an average audience of 1.6 million, for instance, swelling the normal Saturday morning viewership by an estimated 700 per cent. Is it fair for Seven to include such figures in its annual averages, knowing it can't repeat the Olympics (or these ratings) next year? Channel Ten says no. It will strip this fortnight from its 2016 numbers – and it expects Seven to do the same. Like hell we will, Seven's executives sputter. The reason we spend a fortune on programming every year is to make our ratings go up. Rio is so expensive (a reported $170 million for a deal that includes the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics) precisely because it offers huge such audience shares. That's the logic that drives our industry. To ignore this is ridiculous. Officially, Nine won't comment. Unofficially, its news and current affairs teams side with Ten. Staff on Nine's Today show – poised to claim their first yearly win over Sunrise since 2004 – are leading the charge to exclude the Olympics. Today has won 17 of the 24 official ratings weeks this year, averaging 324,000 metropolitan viewers to Sunrise's 313,000. Except Sunrise is now enjoying a massive boost from its regular live crosses to Rio. One way around this is for Today to claim the most weeks won in the official survey period, whether that's 21 in 40 (or 20 in 38, discounting Rio). Nine has already bestowed a medal upon its Sydney and Melbourne evening bulletins using this measure, despite Seven's insistence that it's rubbish. When analysing breakfast TV, Seven likes to count the summer holidays and Easter break, which fall outside the official ratings year, then add regional audiences. This brings Sunrise (531,000) ahead of Today (473,000). Ratings provider OzTam – jointly owned by Seven, Nine and Ten – simply requires networks to label their data clearly. "OzTam measures television audiences for every minute, of every week, of every year," a spokeswoman tells Fairfax Media. "We don't exclude any specific period. It is up to networks and their clients to decide how they analyse that data for their planning purposes." In other words: you kids sort it out among yourselves. Indeed, there is no industry body to adjudicate such disputes. The "official" 40-week calendar and Olympics exclusion period are mere conventions. Increasingly, networks are ignoring these once-hallowed protocols when it suits them. This leaves a Ten spokesman branding Rio an "aberrant event" that "artificially skew[s]" ratings. Now, Ten prefers to assess itself over 52 weeks – a trend that Nine's new sales boss Michael Stephenson supports. "We recognise how important prime time is, but it is also not the 1980s," Stephenson told Mumbrella. Seven's spokesman tells Fairfax Media: "Nine and Ten may wish to ignore the Olympic Games. They'd be alone. Millions of Australians right now are engaging with our coverage across all the screens. "The full 40-week survey year audiences are the figures of record." The ABC and SBS, meanwhile, have no desire to ignore Olympic ratings. "Special event programming is part of the broadcasting cycle," says an ABC spokeswoman. "Networks will all have highs, driven by event coverage, and then at other times, lows. Seven claims it "always" assesses itself with two sets of figures: one with the Olympics, one without. Nine sources say the same. But the devil is in the spin. When Nine broadcast the London Olympics in 2012, Seven prominently excluded the results in its end-of-year press release, allowing it to claim victory in advertiser-friendly demographics. But when Seven had the Beijing games in 2008, its press release had just one Olympics exclusion, buried at the bottom. While Nine staffers want Seven to strip out its Olympic ratings, the network had a different view in 2006. Then-CEO Eddie McGuire used Commonwealth Games-powered figures to declare an early triumph in Melbourne. This sparked outrage within Seven, as old media clippings prove. "The networks are a bit like politicians," says media analyst Steve Allen, managing director of Fusion Strategy. "If one of them tries something on, the other one thinks, 'I'll serve that up to you the same way in the future.' Then they file it away in their grey matter." Allen says that although football and rugby finals swing ratings, they're annual events of short duration – and don't need to be discounted. "If Seven tried to negotiate with me for next year [by including 2016 Olympics averages], I'd say, 'Go root your boot. You can't put that stuff in there. If you're going to stand firm on this, bring me the 16 days of the Olympics next year, please. And if you can't produce that, then piffle. "It's particularly unusual when you've got an odd time zone difference. Sunrise isn't [the normal version of] Sunrise at the moment. They're crossing live events and live interviews. They had swimming in the first week; they'll never get audiences that size again." TV Tonight editor David Knox says the "fail-safe" position is for networks to report both sets of numbers, putting the onus on journalists to do the same. But the standard practice is to strip Olympic figures. "Advertiser rates are based on consistent annual shares," Knox says, "not those spiked by abnormal events."