New Option in Commercial Ratings Fight

Nov 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Call it the three-day compromise: Middle ground may be emerging between television networks and advertisers, who differed over how to count viewers who watch commercials.

Nielsen Media Research said Friday it is again postponing the release of its average commercial ratings data, which was due Nov. 11. Nielsen said the delay would allow it to present clients a new stream of audience information beyond the current ones that measure live viewers, live viewers plus one day’s worth of delayed DVR viewing, and live plus seven days.

Nielsen, which earlier said it wouldn’t provide additional measures, may generate data on live-plus-three-day viewers or on some other middle count.

That new stream of data may clear a logjam that had put the networks and ad buyers in conflict over whether spot prices would be negotiated on the basis of live viewers or the live-plus-seven standard. Advertisers, who want the smaller live-viewing number, and network executives, who prefer the larger live-plus-seven count, said a live-plus-three measurement might work for them.

“The whole point of our doing these commercial ratings was to get some sort of rating that would give us legitimate credit for viewing what that was on the disk,” said Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBC Universal Research. None of Nielsen’s initial measurements were acceptable to all the parties, he said.

Advertisers want commercial ratings so they’ll have a better idea of how many people are watching their ads and they have questioned the worth of commercials watched on a delayed basis. In the most recent upfront ad sales market, ad buyers won their fight with the networks, forcing ad buys to be based on live viewing only.

The networks see commercial ratings as a way to recoup some ground by reaping revenue from DVR viewers.

“We understand that there’s value to people seeing the commercials beyond live,” said Lyle Schwartz, senior VP and director of research for GroupM. “I believe that somewhere between live and live plus seven is the answer; clearly not live plus seven.”

Doing deals based on live-plus-three-day viewers is a potential compromise that would “provide the maximum evaluation of the audience and also be a viable alternative for clients and their marketing strategies,” Mr. Schwartz said. He noted that Nielsen data indicated that of the commercials seen over seven days, 50 percent are seen the first day and about 80 percent are seen by the third day.

Mr. Wurtzel agreed that live plus two or live plus three would meet NBC’s needs. So did David Poltrack, executive VP and chief research officer of CBS.

“The idea of somebody watching within a relatively short time frame and having the documentation that the commercials were watched at normal speed suggests that it should be part of the currency,” Mr. Poltrack said. Some clients might want to buy based on various streams of data, much as advertisers buy now based on different demographics, he added.

Despite the new delay by Nielsen, Mr. Poltrack said CBS wants to use commercial ratings in the next upfront.

“That is our mission,” he said. “Hopefully we will accomplish that, but we need a lot of help from Nielsen, obviously.”

Nielsen plans to hold a client meeting before Thanksgiving to decide the time periods for the data streams it will deliver.

The delay was also cheered by cable and syndication executives. Cable executives have found many bugs in the way Nielsen measures commercial rating for cable, and Nielsen is not yet ready to produce commercial ratings for cable.

Most cable networks have opted out of Nielsen’s evaluative data, citing Nielsen’s inability to distinguish between national and local commercial breaks and other flaws.

“Taking the time to get it right is what’s essential, and that has become the prevailing voice in the marketplace,” said Sean Cunningham, president of the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.

Syndicators are concerned that they will be put at a disadvantage if commercial ratings are made available for broadcast but not for them.

“If the networks could go out into the upfront with it, we’d like to be able to go out into the upfront with it at the same time, if that’s the decision of the marketplace,” said Hadassa Gerber, director of research for the Syndicated Network Television Association.

Nielsen said its new delay will provide more time to address the cable and syndication problems so that the gap between when data for them and broadcast is released will be smaller.

There are other issues that need to be addressed in the commercial ratings debate.

Shari Anne Brill, director of programming for Carat, protests that all recording on VCRs will be counted as commercial viewing. She said high-priced competing Thursday night shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” add nearly a rating point to the count due to VCR recording.

“The networks have been getting credit for time-shifted viewing for years,” Ms. Brill said.