October 19, 2006
Nielsen Commercial Ratings Delayed Among Continued Controversy

Who could blame them for wanting to delay the controversy?

The Nielsen commercial ratings are staying in the news. For those who have been following the development of commercial ratings throughout the summer, in June, the company agreed to start measuring commercial ratings to provide a more reliable indicator of how many people who watch shows also watch the commercial breaks.

It didn't take long for Nielsen measurements to be criticized, as Magna Global raised objections including the fact that the ratings system will include a full minute for any minute that had any commercial advertising in it, even if the majority of that minute was filled with program content, as well as issues with DVR and VCR viewings. Magna called for a second-by-second approach.

The Weather Channel, on the other hand, subscribed to a real minute-by-minute approach that didn't average commercial minutes per show but rather provided real data for every minute of the programming, particularly because The Weather Channel isn't as regularly divided from one show to the next as a lot of other networks are.

In August, ad agencies raised additional objections regarding the use of VCR data for the ratings.

In the wake of this controversy, Nielsen has now decided to delay releasing this data from the planned Nov. 18 date until Dec. 11. The information will be made available free during the current season to anyone who subscribes to Nielsen data.

Jon Lafayette with TelevisionWeek writes, "The broadcast networks and one media-buying agency ordered the new ratings in June but disputes arose over how the ratings would be calculated. The accuracy of preliminary data coming from some cable networks and syndicators generated major complaints."

Nielsen has decided, however, that minutes that include at least one second of national commercial time will be counted as a commercial minutes but will be weighted by the number of commercial seconds in that minute. The ratings for the rest of this season is considered experimental, and Nielsen is requesting that they not be used directly for leveraging in ad buying situations at this point.

While Nielsen is providing these services for free, Lafayette reports that "some cable networks have indicated they might not want to be included in the data because it might be inaccurate or misleading. Networks that do not opt in will not have access to the data."

Of course, viewers are quick to notice this continued controversy and how it's now delayed the release of these commercial ratings numbers. For instance, Buy It Or Die writes:

"yes, commercial ratings have the potential to be a more accurate representation of how watched what ads than assuming that programming viewers equaled commercial viewers. That"s a no-brainer. The problem is that this system, from the very beginning, seems to be weighted in favor of the networks at the expense of ad buyers. It"s nice to see Nielsen take some steps to ease concerns but they need to make some fundamental changes in how this winds up being structured to make the data valuable and fair to everyone involved."

This comes only a few weeks after CBS said that, if Nielsen doesn't give ratings numbers to cable stations because cable providers have problems with the commercial ratings system, and other questions were raised regarding commercial viewing within syndicated programming, as reported on AdJab.

I've been waiting until the November date to see how this affects discussions of advertising on American television, etc., but it looks like I'm going to have to wait a little longer, as well the television industry. Will Nielsen's commercial ratings change anything about the current television system? Will networks trust the commercial ratings? Will advertisers? The controversies that this discussion has raised so far shows the tensions currently in the industry regarding advertising and the continued vitality of the 30-second spot. I am betting that these commercial ratings will continue to be a major battlefront in this argument.