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November 4, 2006

After All the Debate, Commercial Ratings Once Again Delayed

Who knows when Nielsen will release its commercial ratings, with its latest announcement of another indefinite delay.

A couple of weeks ago, Nielsen anounced that it was delaying the release of its commercial ratings until Dec. 11, amidst controversy around a variety of issues, including how commercial minutes in a program would be counted and the status of VCR and DVR users.

Nielsen told its clients yesterday that it would be delaying the commercial ratings indefinitely, with no new release date currently planned. One of the continued problems, in addition to squabbling over how to count minutes that include both commercials and program time and DVR/VCR viewers, has been how to handle syndicated programming and some issues with commercial ratings for cable.

According to the news that broke yesterday, Nielsen had sent out a fresh analysis of DVR playback to clients at the beginning of the week, causing a fresh round of debate. A meeting will be held later in November for clients to further debate the issue.

Chris Thilk with AdJab points out in his sarcastic 7-step list that the chief problem is that "Nielsen says that it can measure who's watching what commercials," but "it can't." The debate remains about the three streams of viewer information Nielsen gets: those who watch shows live, those who watch them within one day of their airing, and those which watch them within seven days. Claire Atkinson with Advertising Age points out that "the data seems to suggest that most people, around 90%, have watched the ads within three days of recording a show while only 1% are watching at the seven day point. That is leading agencies to call for a fourth stream of data, maybe 'live plus three days.' Nielsen has agreed in the short term to add a fourth stream, but will only provide three when the data moves out of its test phase."

Atkinson says, "The postponement is a significant setback for the broadcast networks and syndicators, which are eager to have commercial ratings as soon as possible. The more delays there are, the less likely it is the data can be used in the upfront negotiating process, which starts in May."

Thalik highlighted serious doubts earlier in the day on Friday, before the announcement of the delay came out, as to whether a commercial minute rating will ever being able to account for viewers' conscious decision to watch a commercial, pointing out that, with the wealth of other choices a viewer has, watching commercials is a conscious decision. He writes, "Real numbers need to be provided to show how many people are making that choice since real numbers are the only ones that are going to be of value to advertisers. A program with such a skewed definition of a 'commercial minute' and that can't distinguish between national and local advertising won't be able to provide such numbers."

Gary Bourgeault with Biz of Showbiz, when covering CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves' conference call with analysts, writes that these commercial ratings and debates over DVR viewers are about "temporary fixes until they can figure out what to do. That's what the bottom line of all of this is about. Change the focus away from their failures and blame it on something else. That can only work for so long."

Back a couple of weeks ago, I wrote:

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.

Then, a week later, NBC/Universal announced that it was pulling out of the commercial ratings altogether, despite being one of the first companies to request these figures, along with the other members of the Big Four broadcast networks. On Oct. 27, I wrote:

NBC claims to have pulled out because they are not happy with the controversies raised and Nielsen's inabilities to deal with them, but this highlights the problems with the commercial ratings when one of the initial requesters have reneged on their interest. We'll see what happens throughout December. Will NBC merely be the first of the big four to pull back out of their interest, and what long-term effects will these points of contention cause between advertisers and networks in relation to the 30-second spot?

That Oct. 27 post details the history of this controversy surrounding commercial ratings that has lasted since the summer, from our first coverage on June 21 through arguments from Magna Global and advertiser concerns. Most instructive in the argument may be the deals struck by The Weather Channel, providing advertisers with true minute-by-minute ratings rather than averaging ratings for particular programs, especially considering that The Weather Channel is not a traditional network in terms of block programs.

While I don't think networks are completely failing by any means, the traditional models are slowly shifting, and these debates about the 30-second spots are temporary fixes at best (and, so far, they aren't fixing anything at all.

Related to this is my post earlier today about the increase in DVR viewing.

Looks like we're in for several more months of this debate.

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