Magna Raises Red Flag Over Nielsen Commercial Ratings

Jul 12, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Media buying agency Magna Global said Wednesday that the way Nielsen Media Research plans to measure audiences for television commercials is “not acceptable” as a currency for buying and selling advertising time.

At the request of the networks and some ad buyers, Nielsen beginning in the 2006-07 season will deliver ratings that measure minute-by-minute the number of people watching shows. The ratings are designed to give advertisers a better handle on how effectively their marketing dollars are being spent.

But Steve Sternberg, executive VP for research at Magna Global, called several details of Nielsen’s plans “disturbing.”

He said one problem with Nielsen’s commercial ratings is that they include spots viewed on digital video recorders up to seven days after a program airs, creating problems for advertisers whose messages are time-sensitive.

Mr. Sternberg also questioned Nielsen’s plan to count as commercial minutes time slots that contain a majority of program time and just a few seconds of advertising.

“These should really be called minutes that contain both program and commercial time,” he said.

Mr. Sternberg said it was “an embarrassment” that VCR viewing is included in the proposed commercial ratings plan. Surveys have shown that about one-third of VCR recordings are not played back and that more than two-thirds of playbacks involve fast-forwarding through commercials, he said.

His concerns about Nielsen’s commercial ratings foreshadow a potential conflict between ad buyers and television networks over how ad deals will be negotiated in next year’s upfront advertising market. This year, some upfront sales were slowed by disagreements over whether to use ratings that include viewers who delay watching shows using DVRs.

Ad buyers won that argument, and ad deals this year were based only on live viewers.

In order to “even be considered for use as currency” to negotiate ad deals, Nielsen’s commercial ratings must be calculated based on live viewers or live viewers plus DVR audiences that tune in the same day a program airs, Mr. Sternberg said.

He also pressed for removal of viewers who tape and watch shows using VCRs. Mr. Sternberg insisted that to count as a commercial minute, half that time must contain advertising.

The minute-by-minute ratings Nielsen is offering are just a start, Mr. Sternberg said, pressing the ratings company to offer second-by-second ratings so that its reported average commercial audience counts reflect actual viewing.