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New Ratings Fan Flames

Jan 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

With the release last week of new Nielsen Media Research ratings that include viewing on digital video recorders, a simmering dispute between ad buyers and the networks began to heat up.

Buyers said several broadcast and cable networks planned to calculate audience delivery based on the newest Nielsen measure, which includes live viewing plus the viewing of shows on DVRs up to seven days later.

But most buyers said they would continue to conduct their post-buy analyses-which are used to determine whether the networks achieved guaranteed viewership levels-based on the older measure of live viewing only.

“Clearly, the networks will always count on the high side; that’s their job,” said Jason Kanefsky, VP and account director for media buyer MPG. “We’re going to post our numbers the way we post our numbers, which is on live only. And then we’re going to see what the difference is between their numbers and our numbers. And then we’ll come to a conclusion.”

One buyer called the networks presumptuous for switching currencies on deals negotiated based on live viewing.

Ratings for the first available week-the week beginning Dec. 26-show a fairly small difference between the live and live-plus-seven figures. The top-rated show, CBS’s “CSI,” had 6.894 million live viewers in the 18 to 49 demographic. It added 95,000 viewers in the demo using the live-plus-seven ratings, giving it a total of 6.989 million. ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” added 19,000 viewers for a total of 5.978 million.

The difference is likely to remain relatively small for a while. Nielsen has about 60 DVR households in its sample of about 10,000 homes and plans to add about 100 DVR homes a month. As the number of DVRs rises, delayed viewing is likely to become significant. Nielsen also calculates data on live-plus-same-day viewing on DVRs. (All shows recorded on VCRs-whether or not they’re watched-are counted as live viewing.)

With such a small difference, Mr. Kanefsky said it’s OK that the networks post on live-plus-seven this season. “We’re watching this thing on a daily basis to see if there’s any trending, and if we see trends becoming problematic we’ll obviously go back to networks and negotiate some fair share make-goods,” he said. In next year’s upfront, however, MPG will specify that its deals are based on the live numbers, he added.

“We were pretty vocal about the fact that we would only accept live data, and there’s been no change as far as we’re concerned,” said Larry Blasius, executive VP and director of negotiations at Magna Global. “At some point we’ll reach a compromise, perhaps. But in the short term there’s nothing we’ve seen in the way of data that suggests that there’s any value to anything but live, and we shouldn’t pay for it.”

“Our plan is to post on the live [numbers]. That’s what we bought,” said Harry Keeshan, director of broadcast at media buyer PHD.

Mr. Keeshan didn’t think the dispute would turn acrimonious. “They need our money and we need their space and I’m sure we can work it [out] together,” he said. “We need to figure out what the value is of that time-shifted, and what the viewer is doing with those time-shifted programs.”

Other buyers noted that some ad messages are very time-sensitive. If an ad scheduled Wednesday for a sale on Thursday isn’t seen until Friday, it’s not worth much to the client.

A spokesperson for CBS said, “There are people out there who watch on DVRs and we would like them to be counted.” But the spokesperson added that this was a work in progress and that CBS would negotiate the matter with its clients.

ABC and NBC declined to discuss which data stream they would use to post ad buys.

In November, after a press conference called by the major networks to show how DVRs would increase the number of impressions available to advertisers, Michael Mellon, senior VP of research at ABC, said, “If I was the agency and my job is to reach the most people the most amount of times, the seven-day number makes the most amount of sense.”

The first live-plus-seven numbers for the week of Dec. 26 showed CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox each gaining an average about 10,000 viewers 18 to 49 when DVR viewing was included. Each network’s rating in the demo stayed the same. UPN picked up an extra 30,000 viewers and The WB gained 20,000.