Plans to measure the commercial minutes in television shows, already delayed, may face another roadblock.
Starcom MediaVest Group, a major ad buyer, has told Nielsen Media Research that it will not support its proposal to calculate the average ratings for commercial minutes as a way to measure how many people are watching a sponsor’s messages.
“We don’t believe that, and we have the stats to back it up, that averaging all the commercial minutes within a program in any way reflects how viewers are exposed to commercials throughout a program,” said John Spiropoulos, VP, associate research director for MediaVest.
He said the proposed commercial ratings don’t provide a better picture of who’s watching an ad than do program ratings.
“Where we’re pushing Nielsen is to add pod ratings to their data,” Mr. Spiropoulos said. Pod ratings are more reflective of real commercial viewing because they take into consideration whether a show is gaining or losing viewers from beginning to end. “If it’s growing, you want to be toward the end. If it declines, you want to be toward the beginning.”
Mr. Spiropoulos also questioned whether commercials that Nielsen said were viewed are really exposures advertisers want to pay for. When viewers aren’t fast-forwarding commercials, are viewers “actually paying attention to the commercials, or are they using that time to go to the kitchen and get something or go to the bathroom? Those issues haven’t been quantified, therefore blindly using that as real exposure is a mistake,” he said.
A Nielsen spokesman said “the majority of clients have expressed interest in average commercial ratings” because they are the quickest and easiest fit with current systems for buying and selling ads. He added that that data is available to allow any client to compute pod ratings if it wishes.
The use of digital video recorders is having a growing effect on television, and the networks pushed to create commercial minute ratings so they could get paid for some viewing of their shows done on a delayed basis. During the 2006 upfront, agencies insisted that ad buys be based on live viewing only.
Some agencies, including GroupM, have expressed willingness to include some delayed viewing in ad buys. But all of the currently available DVR ratings streams-live viewing, live plus same day and live plus seven days-have been rejected.
Other agencies, including OMD, are taking a wait-and-see approach. “We support a move to commercial ratings,” said John Clifton, director of broadcast research for OMD, adding “we want them to get it right.” OMD is still studying what, if any, delayed viewing ought to be included.
Nielsen will hold a meeting Nov. 30 to see if the industry is willing to compromise on a stream of live plus two days or live plus three days. Without a compromise, the commercial rating plan could collapse, meaning the networks would have to arm-wrestle with buyers again over buying on program ratings that either include or don’t include delayed DVR viewing.
Alan Wurtzel, president of research and media development for NBC Universal Research, said he’s hopeful the meeting results in Nielsen being able to move forward.
He thought pod ratings had problems because where it’s been used in Europe, the numbers are volatile.
“They say you’ve got to be prepared for enormous bounces, and I think that’s something that, frankly, our business over here doesn’t want to tolerate,” Mr. Wurtzel said.
Mr. Clifton said pod ratings might create an overwhelming amount of data. “It’s almost like, be careful what you wish for,” he said.
Mr. Wurtzel called arguments over whether viewers are watching commercials or going to the bathroom an age-old issue. “The fact of the matter is [TV advertising] obviously works” Mr. Wurtzel said. “And that’s the thing that people forget in this whole argument about measurement.”
Mr. Wurtzel said data on DVR use is starting to show major effects. Nineteen percent of “The Office’s” viewing takes place after the show airs. For “CSI,” it’s 15 percent.
The effects are also being felt in cable. Sci Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” delivers 34 percent more impressions using live-plus-seven data, and the finale of “Project Runway” showed a 16 percent difference.
“It’s making a difference in the real world,” Mr. Wurtzel said. “The fact that we’re getting zero credit is now becoming a very serious issue.”
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