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TNS Steps Into Rating Race

Nov 1, 2006  •  Post A Comment

While the industry wrestles with Nielsen Media Research over how to produce some form of commercial ratings, another research company, TNS Group, is producing them daily.
TNS Media Research, a sister company to TNS Media Intelligence, is delivering a stream of second-by-second commercial ratings data with viewer information coming off cable set-top boxes.
“We’re pulling that data right now and turning it around by the next morning,” said Steve Fredericks, president of TNS Media Intelligence.
TNS Media Research has deals with cable operators Charter Communications and Time Warner Cable. In September it signed a deal with DirecTV that will give TNS access to data from a pool of 250,000 DirecTV customers who have interactive capability.
Admittedly, TNS Media at this point is not in a position to provide a national rating like Nielsen does from its pool of 10,000 sample households. TNS’s set-top data by definition includes only digital households.
But TNS has the potential to drill down to what Mr. Fredericks called census-level data buy pulling the data out of every set-top box in a market.
“It’s very interesting data and I think eventually this is where this will go,” he said. “When you have that kind of data available and you have a way of processing it, it would be silly to ignore it. So it’s just a question of people getting comfortable with the mass amount of data and how you can use it intelligently.”
TNS Media Intelligence last week challenged Nielsen’s rival Monitor-Plus commercial tracking service to a duel.
“We invented the business of tracking commercials 80 years ago, so we think we’re the best in the business and so does the vast majority of the media and agency community,” Mr. Fredericks said.
“We said we were fully prepared to submit to a side-by-side comparison with Monitor-Plus and that it should be open and transparent and probably run by an industry organization that everyone would trust,” he said. “We believe our detection algorithm, our hardware and software is clearly superior to anything out there.”
Nielsen planned to use Monitor-Plus to identify when commercials appear in order to calculate average commercial ratings. But data from Monitor-Plus has been flawed, and networks and agencies have persuaded Nielsen to submit the service to the Media Rating Council for accreditation. TNS hadn’t been accredited, either, because it also had never been used in a rating context. Now that it could be, TNS has begun the accreditation process, Mr. Fredericks said.
Lifetime Television Executive VP of Research Tim Brooks, who chaired the ARF meeting, said the idea of a competition struck a chord. The pitch was “We’re willing to put our service against up against theirs. And whoever you decide to use, you’ll have a better service through competition than you will by locking in a monopoly for one of them,” Mr. Brooks said.
At the ARF meeting, a Nielsen executive was noncommittal about the idea of a bake-off, Mr. Brooks said.
A spokesman for Nielsen said that with both systems going through the MRC process, clients will be able to compare the two products.
Either way, “I would say that if it’s deemed that our data is more accurate, that’s what the industry is going to use. There’s no choice,” Mr. Fredericks said. “I don’t foresee a situation in which there’s going to be parallel side-by-side ratings coming out. The industry has shown over its history that it is not interested in dual sets of ratings.”
The Media Intelligence system not only identifies that a commercial is running, but flags who the client is and which creative execution is running.
“Until you get down to brand-level and creative-level identification, you can’t really conduct any kind of analysis of the campaign or get any ROI accountability. So to just say a commercial played during a program is meaningless to potentially a Gillette or a Kraft Foods or whoever it is that’s advertising,” Mr. Fredericks said.
Mr. Brooks said TNS tried to differentiate itself from Nielsen by stressing its ability to dig into second-by-second data and to identify individual creative executions. And that was a key to the way it looked at the future, Mr. Brooks said.
“It’s clear that eventually, if this is going to be used for currency—which my impression is that was the sentiment—if you’re going to move to commercial ratings, the whole point of currency is to show when I played my commercial, how many people actually saw my commercial. If that’s what I’m paying for, that’s the metric I have to know,” Mr. Fredericks said. “And so it’s got to get more granular, and I think everybody recognizes that it will get more granular. So this [average commercial minute ratings] clearly is a baby step, or maybe an interim step, toward getting there.”
The future of ratings has to be built on an infrastructure geared to second-by-second data, he said. “From our perspective we can certainly supply the commercial occurrence data at virtually a second-by-second granular level, and so for us it’s just a question of waiting for the audience measurement piece to catch up.”
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s Media Planner newsletter, a weekly source of breaking news, trend articles, profiles and data about media planning edited by Senior Editor Jon Lafayette.

4 Comments

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