The television, advertising and ratings communities have quietly arrived at a consensus on how to identify the mushrooming number of digital channels that stations are rolling out, settling on a system based on good, old-fashioned call letters.
Settling on standard naming conventions for the digital platforms is essential to measuring audiences and buying and selling advertising.
The naming system applies only to the accounting of transactions and ratings, not to marketing or public use of the station’s brand. It uses a station’s call letters as its foundation. It also identifies the station’s analog and assorted digital channels and subchannels, along with the station’s Web, video-on-demand and mobile platforms and even products on which advertising can be sold.
The concerted push for call-letter standardization, also known as naming conventions, started in early 2006. It had become clear that the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the Congressionally ordered conversion of broadcasting from analog to digital by the beginning of 2009, was going to address only technical questions, not business issues.
On Jan. 18, a bulletin was issued by the joint task force on E-business of the Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA).
“The TVB/AAAA Joint Task Force will continue its work to create a long-term, comprehensive and widely implemental solution that will provide a naming convention for stations’ digital, Web and other multiplatform offerings. In the short term (6-12 months), however, your immediate adoption of these call letters will allow the industry to move forward on electronic processing and permit the selling/buying of local digital assets to conform to current business practices,” the bulletin said.
The task force has “very strong support” from ad agency buyers, who thus far have been frustrated by the lack of process to make this happen, TVB Executive VP Abby Auerbach said, noting that there was a sigh of relief from all sides involved that someone was going to take the bull by the horns.
WNBC-TV President and General Manager Frank Comerford, who has been a member of the TVB E-Business Committee, was an early proponent of an industry-wide solution because without one, “all these businesses will be bad business.” The TVB/AAAA task force agreed with a prior choice by Nielsen Media Research to limit the naming convention to four characters, a choice that means the designations will conform to sell-buy systems already in use.
“We’d been aware of [the need for a universal solution] for a long time,” said Eric Rossi, Nielsen’s local product manager.
Bottom line: You can’t conduct electronic business unless you can name the platform in the pitching, selling and billing.