Ad Ratings Debate Still Set to Rage

Jan 22, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Plans to sell television advertising based on ratings that track how many viewers watch commercials rather than programs still face a number of hurdles.

Nielsen Media Research last week released its latest timetable for rolling out an expanded batch of average commercial ratings. In May, the ratings service will let ad buyers and sellers try out streams of average commercial program ratings that count viewers who delay watching shows using digital video recorders.

The new streams of data-live viewing plus playback within one day, live plus two days and live plus three days-join the originally planned streams of live viewing only, live plus delayed viewing the same day and live plus seven days.

Nielsen will also be providing raw minute-by-minute data that will allow clients to generate commercial ratings any way they want.

The six streams give buyers and sellers a lot of ways to compromise on how to measure audiences and negotiate advertising deals. But first, Nielsen must deliver the data.

“I wouldn’t bet my firstborn on it,” said Bruce Goerlich, executive VP and director of strategic resources at media buyer ZenithOptimedia. “They do have a history of missing dates when it comes to software-related materials.”

Last year, advertisers won a battle to have delayed viewing excluded from the program ratings on which ad sales were based for the 2006-07 season. Networks protested that they should have been given credit for those viewers. Nielsen’s new commercial ratings exclude zapped or fast-forwarded commercials, so counting audiences who delay viewing is more palatable to some buyers.

“That’s the change. A good change,” Mr. Goerlich said. He thinks the industry is moving toward using commercial ratings, but the negotiations over how much delayed viewing will be included will be difficult.

“I think there will be lots of huffing and puffing, so it may not be so easy,” Mr. Goerlich said. “But I think it will happen.”

Cable networks and syndicators have also complained about commercial ratings because while Nielsen has been able to calculate broadcast ratings accurately, measuring cable and syndication has proved more difficult.

Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer at Turner Broadcasting, still has questions.

“How accurate is Nielsen’s upgraded system for detecting ads? What happens when crawls run under ads, or they are shrunk back?” he said.

Another stumbling block: Nielsen’s commercial ratings system has not been accredited by the Media Rating Council.

“Accreditation may be the biggest issue,” Mr. Wakshlag said.

Syndicators have not gotten details about Nielsen’s solutions to problems measuring syndicated shows. But they take solace that Nielsen’s new plan will release broadcast, cable and syndication numbers at the same time.

“We’re pleased they have agreed to a simultaneous release of data so planners and buyers can have a full understanding for the media in a timely fashion,” said Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association.

The networks have been pushing commercial ratings because they want to get credit for the increasing amount of DVR usage in negotiations during the next upfront advertising market, where about 70 percent of broadcast ad time is sold. Advertisers counter that they don’t want to pay for viewers who skip ads using DVRs.

“We won’t accept zero for something we know has tremendous value,” said David Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS.

“Buyers and sellers have to get together as soon as we possibly can” to determine what the key streams are going to be in the upcoming upfront because it would be efficient if the same ones were used by everyone.

He said CBS could sell ads based on several different ratings streams. More time-sensitive advertisers-like movie studios-might buy on live plus one day, while others might buy on live plus three. The network is likely to charge different prices per thousand viewers depending on which stream is used. “We are going to take into consideration the value of the ad” to other advertisers, he said.

He also said compromises can be found on other issues raised by buyers, including how to calculate commercial watching by VCR users.