Last week Nielsen Media Research unveiled the Nielsen Product Placement Measurement Service, a syndicated service launching in February that will measure exposure to products and brands mentioned or depicted inside TV programming.
That service follows the recent launch of Nielsen Cinema, another syndicated service that is producing TV-like ratings for ads shown before movies in theaters. In January, Nielsen will roll out a new out-of-home media measurement system in Chicago that will use global positioning satellite technology to create ratings for billboards and other outdoor media.
The new services are part of an ambitious campaign by Nielsen, recently under fire for its methodology, to expand the points of media contact it measures. And while that is part of a very logical expansion and diversification strategy for the company, it also raises new issues for media planners and buyers who have grown accustomed to making TV buys based on a relatively finite supply of rating points.
By expanding into new media such as cinema and outdoor and by recognizing previously uncounted audience impressions from product placements, Nielsen effectively is expanding the supply of measurable ratings points. Historically, when it has done that, it has expanded the pie for TV advertising budgets.
That was the case when it launched the Nielsen Homevideo Index in the early 1980s to measure cable TV networks, or when it launched the Nielsen Syndication Service to measure national ad-supported syndicated TV shows or more recently, when it launched the Nielsen Hispanic services to measure Spanish-language TV stations and networks.
“They’re expanding the universe of measured GRPs. They’re not expanding the universe of actual GRPs,” said Steve Sternberg, executive VP and director of audience analysis at Magna Global USA, referring to “gross rating points,” a term used to describe the total pool of ratings points that constitute the television advertising marketplace.
Mr. Sternberg’s point on the distinction between “measured” and “actual” GRPs is a valid one, because it’s not as though these audience impressions didn’t exist before. It’s not different from out-of-home viewing, which Nielsen does not currently measure on a regular basis, but is also considering doing. His point is that people are always viewing media outside the official currency of Nielsen ratings, but those audiences are not factored into negotiations. Once they are measured, though, they do.
Or, as Shari Anne Brill, director of programming at Carat, put it, “Nielsen is the bean counter, and they’re counting some new beans.” Ms. Brill was specifically referring to Nielsen’s new product placement measurement service, but she said the effect is the same for any new rating points Nielsen creates.
“Nielsen created the GRP for television, because planners need to assign a value and a contribution to everything that is advertisable. They need to know what they’re getting for their money. If it’s about product placements, I need to know how to justify going into one product placement opportunity vs. another.”
In this sense, she said, Nielsen GRPs function as a common denominator for planners to evaluate advertising opportunities across disparate TV options (different dayparts and different distribution platforms) and now across new forms of Nielsen-rated media (cinema, outdoor, product placement). In fact, some planners have begun looking at ways of factoring the equivalent of GRP data for consumer magazines in an effort to make better comparisons with TV buys.
“It helps if you can look at something on the same playing field, using the same metric,” Ms. Brill said. Not only is it shorthand for media planners but for advertisers as well.
“By the time you get a client to understand what a GRP is, to try and get them to understand a completely different way of valuing something is going to be another challenge,” she said. “Basically, what we’re talking about is an opportunity to see an advertising exposure. And it’s expressed as a GRP.”
For their part, Nielsen executives say the expansion into new formats and new media simply is a logical extension of their business.
“As advertising begins to move inside the programs, we have to move our advertising research inside the program, too,” explained Dave Harkness, senior VP, business development, at Nielsen.
In the case of the new product placement measurement service, Mr. Harkness said it was a logical move for two Nielsen units: the regular TV ratings side and Nielsen’s Monitor-Plus unit. Because Monitor-Plus already tracks and identifies TV advertising surrounding the programs, it makes sense for that unit to begin tracking product plugs and placements within the programs.
The new service therefore will operate out of Monitor-Plus’ offices in Shelton, Conn., where teams of analysts will pore over episodes of every program airing on the major broadcast networks to identify and code audio or visual references to products and brands occurring in-program.
By housing the service within Monitor-Plus, Nielsen has effectively determined product placements to be a new form of advertising media. “Monitor-Plus reports on 16 forms of media. This will be the 17th,” said Mr. Harkness, who acknowledged that service will effectively expand the TV advertising universe.
“We all know that television began with product placement on television programs, but we’ve somehow lost track of that,” he said, adding that he personally estimates the value of all existing product mentions on television to be worth “in the billions of dollars.”