December 9, 2006
Nielsen Meeting Solidifies Plans About Commercial Ratings; Consensus on DVR Viewers?

News came out on Thursday that the battle between the networks and advertisers and their buyers over commercial ratings has seen a little headway. Nielsen announced, with more than 100 clients present at a meeting that day, that it will "make available all the data necessary for the media agencies and TV networks to create their own minute-by-minute ratings for all dayparts, including DVR playback data, for intervals of up to seven days," according to John Consoli and Anthony Crupi of MediaWeek. The data will be available on April 24, but raw data will be available for networks to analyze themselves, in the coming weeks.

Michele Greppi with TelevisionWeek points out that, while raw data will be available soon for the broadcast networks, data on cable commercials will not be made available at all until late April, and syndicated shows will not be available until late May.

The idea is to find a way to let commercial ratings be available, but such a late date allows only three weeks before the first upfront presentations, at which time networks traditionally announced their programming for the coming fall and commercial buying deals commence. Will the late release of this raw commercial ratings data not allow them to be a major factor in the haggling over next fall's commercial upfronts?

Consoli and Crupi point out that the commercial data will be available through Nielsen's NPower service, in which clients have to pay extra for data that they then have to translate for themselves. They point out that most networks are going to wait until Nielsen starts releasing the data through traditional streams in April. They cite CBS as one network that pays extra for NPower. Broadcast commercial services will be available through NPower starting Jan. 29.

Consoli and Crupi are correct--and perhaps understating it substantially--when they say there are "still a lot of kinks to work out," such as trying to figure out how to measure playback on VCRs. Since there is no way to measure VCR playback, CBS' David Poltrack has asked Nielsen to do a study offline among Nielsen households "to come up with some metric that will assign a value to VCR viewing played back in regular mode."

The minute-by-minute ratings are certainly much more precise for commercials, but Linda Moss with Multichannel News points out that commercial-minute ratings "provides commercial ratings in a convenient format for clients' commonly used legacy software systems." Nielsen is still working on perfecting those average ratings.

According to Consoli and Crupi's article, "Nielsen said it will be up to the client base to determine whether minute-by-minute ratings, or the average commercial minute rating per show is used as a negotiating currency."

According to Moss, Nielsen's plan is to offer "highly granular data so that clients will have all of the data they need to create commercial ratings at the minute level on up and for any interval of DVR playback from one minute to seven days."

The company also released an analysis of DVR playback that found that for 18-49 viewers, 76 percent of them played broadcast network back within two days and 85 percent played back cable and syndicated ad-supported shows within two days. That rose to 84 percent for broadcast shows, 89 percent for cable, and 91 percent for syndicated shows for three days and that nearly 50 percent of those viewing in homes with DVRs ages 18-49 watched shows in playback mode.

Joe Mandese with MediaDaily News highlights this as Nielsen's putting the exclusive measurement of live viewing on notice. "During that meeting a consensus appeared to emerge between both buyers and sellers that a combination of live and time-shifted viewing that occurs within one or a few days of an original telecast, might be the best way to go," he writes. "The consensus emerged after Nielsen revealed new research showing that the share of viewing occurring via playback on digital video recorders is growing faster than many people might have thought."

Is, as Lost Remote summarizes, a consensus beginning to emerge about time-shifted viewing?

This whole process of determining how the commercial rating will be measured has left a bad taste in many people's mouths (see recent comments from Chris Thilk with AdJab, for instance). Other systems have been proposed as well. In this case, Starcom's deal with TNS Media Search announced last month will plan to create second-by-second viewer data through customers who have digital boxes. Mary Ellen Podmolik with The Chicago Tribune writes about the second-by-second system proposed that "the call for such a measuring system has grown louder as advertisers--and agencies like Starcom that buy ad time for them--try to determine how best to spend billions of marketing dollars in an increasingly complex media industry."

For more on the history of this struggle, see my last piece (of many) about the ongoing debate about commercial ratings from Nov. 22.