The continued arguments surrounding the Nielsen ratings raged on into this week, with the new focus being on whether VCR recordings should count in viewer measurements for the new commercial ratings that will be released for the upcoming fall season.
While last week's debate centered on the company's announcement of partnering with Insight Communications to measure Video-on-Demand viewership patterns, the commercial ratings have returned this week, as companies argue over the measurement system that will help further set advertising rates.
Advertising agencies are claiming that programming recorded onto a VHS tape should not count in commercial ratings averages for the coming season since VCR viewing is not measured, only recording. And, since many people never watch programming recorded on a VCR or often record three or four shows they do not intend on watching in order to also record a show they DO want to watch, the numbers do not reflect viewership. And, of those viewers who do watch the material they record, it doesn't take a social scientist to guest the viewer behavior here--those commercials are going to be fast-forwarded through.
The ad agencies have continued concerns about the way the measurement system will work and have even called for the monitoring system used to help compile the commercial ratings data to be accredited from the Media Research Council. For instance, a few weeks ago, I wrote about Magna Global calling for significant changes in the ratings, including working toward a second-by-second ratings system, calling for more detailed measurements of DVR viewers, and asking for changes in the way commercial minutes are measured, since the ratings will count any minute that has commercial content in it as a commercial minute, even if the majority of that minute contains programming instead of a commercial. According to the statistics used by Magna Global, a third of programs recorded on a VCR are never watched, while as many as two-thirds of the viewers who do watch what they recorded fast-forward through the commercials.
These issues surrounding the VCR aren't a new point of contention from advertising agencies, but it has an even more immediate impact on these commercial ratings, which may have a significant future impact on how advertising rates are negotiated and purchased. However, the networks maintain that, since playback cannot be measured, the number of recordings should be measured because including the data is more accurate than excluding it.
While it isn't the second-by-second data, networks could avoid some of the controversy by adopting The Weather Channel's plan for true minute-by-minute ratings, as I wrote about last month, instead of averaging all the commercial minutes together for a particular program. It wouldn't be the second-by-second ratings that some are calling for, but it might help satisfy some of the critics. Then again, network executives are afraid of what they might find, since everyone knows that most people don't watch television for the commercials.
Then, of course, there's the larger problem: if the Nielsen measurement system is inherently flawed, you can continue drawing as many new data streams from that same sample as you want, but they are still not going to be as accurate of a measurement as one would need.