Commercial Ratings Come Under Fire

Sep 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

New concerns were raised last week about whether the Nielsen Co.’s new commercial ratings were ready to be used as the basis for buying and selling television advertising.
After a big push by the broadcast networks and some media buyers, most of the deals done in this year’s upfront were conducted using Nielsen’s average commercial ratings plus three days of digital video recorder playback. But a letter from one of the companies that processes Nielsen numbers for cable networks indicated it was finding a number of errors in the data it was getting from the ratings company.
A Nielsen spokesman called the errors minor “formatting” issues that didn’t affect the viewership data. He said Nielsen expected to have the problem fixed by the time it began reporting official data on Sept. 24 for the week of Aug. 27.
But ad buyers and sales executives at cable networks, which opposed moving quickly to commercial ratings, said Nielsen could face bigger problems.
“It’s the tip of the iceberg, I think,” said Tim Brooks, executive VP of research at Lifetime.
“There is a question of whether the reporting of the data they do have is correct,” Mr. Brooks said. “Nielsen from the start has minimized all of these problems, and I think that’s unfortunate.”
Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for Turner Broadcasting, said the letter supports the need for a Media Rating Council audit of Nielsen’s ability to match up commercial breaks in programs with its viewership data.
“Clearly, this is not ready to be currency until all these processing issues are resolved,” Mr. Wakshlag said.
Aaron Cohen, executive VP and director of broadcast at Horizon Media, which opted not to use commercial ratings for its cable buys in this year’s upfront, said the letter proved the agency’s issues with the data were valid.
“We’re seeing all kinds of inconsistencies,” Mr. Cohen said.
In the letter, first obtained by MediaDailyNews, Star Media Enterprises found duplicate telecast information, programs omitted from Nielsen’s tapes, inconsistencies in data for certain programs and records duplicated and omitted.
Star Media Enterprises did not respond to calls.
“There’s been some minor formatting glitches that go back several months that we’ve been fixing,” said a Nielsen spokesman. “These are minor issues and we’re very confident things will be completely A-OK by the time we do the reporting.”
Mr. Brooks of Lifetime said he thought that eventually Nielsen would get it right, but that the industry will suffer through the birthing pains and faces a bumpy 2007-08 season.
“We just transacted close to $20 billion on this currency, and not only is it unvetted and unaccredited, but we’re still uncertain, no matter what they say, that this is accurate data,” he said. “I would think the buyers would be apoplectic about that. If they’re spending money on a currency that none of us are sure of, then that’s an issue.”


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