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June 21, 2006

Nielsen commercial ratings

On the heels of Nielsen announcing the move away from paper and into completely digital media consumption measurements, including counts of media consumption away from the home, over the next few years comes the news of ratings for commercials.

By this fall, the media research company will be providing ratings for braodcast networks showing the average ratings of their commercials playing nationwide. The data will provide not only live viewers but those who watch the programs on digital recorders within a week.

In a story on Nielsen's announcement yesterday, Jon Lafayette of Television Week quoted David Poltrack, chief research officer for CBS, as saying that the ratings would play a part in price negotiations for the next season but would not affect this year's deals. Poltrack warned that commercial avoidance will definitely be noticeable in the numbers but that the number has remained steady for years and that new techologies have not increased commercial avoidance. Instead, he "questioned the sincerity" of ad buyers for why they wanted the information and figured that it might be a negotiation ploy to lower the cost of national ads.

Whatever the case, accountability for commercials, in as accurate as Nielsen data is going to be, is a positive thing for measuring where the 30-second spot is at. David Poltrack came to MIT this past semester and spoke about changes in the media industry. As you can imagine, he was well-versed and very forward-thinking about CBS' role, but it is still a company invested in the 30-second spot system. There must have been some pretty heavy pressure from advertisers to succeed in getting a push like this, for Nielsen numbers for their ads.

If Nielsen continues with their push for active/passive viewer measurement as well, I wonder if we will eventually be able to also have attempts to measure the level of engagement people have during certain ads. We might find that particularly creative ads catch people's attention and ads placed right before a show comes back from commercial break, etc. But, even though I still question the validity of many Nielsen numbers, I think this will provide some basis for discussion.

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