Nets just say no to Nielsen blurb plan

Cablers balk at new ratings system

Concerned over Nielsen’s methodology, cable’s top networks say they’ll boycott its new ratings system for TV commercials.

Goliaths such as MTV, TNT, USA and ESPN have opted out of the long-term study for now. They claim they’ve found several errors in how the ratings firm monitors cable ads.

“Nielsen can’t distinguish between local ads and national ads,” said Jack Wakshlag, chief research officer for TBS.

The Big Four broadcast networks are pushing Nielsen, trying to get Madison Avenue to pay top dollar for Nielsen ratings that include viewers who watch a program on a DVR within 24 hours after its original run.

At NBC, the broadcast network remains aboard, but the Peacock’s sibling cablers won’t participate.

“We’re just not confident in the data for our cable networks, so we’re opting out,” said Alan Wurtzel, exec VP of research for NBC Universal, referring to USA, Sci Fi Channel, MSNBC, Bravo, CNBC and other channels.

Wurtzel said the NBC net will still cooperate because it thinks the data eventually will show that people do not automatically fast-forward through commercials on their DVRs.

Media buyers are convinced that a huge percentage of these viewers are skipping the ads. The broadcasters are equally convinced that once Nielsen starts monitoring commercials, it will find that even many TiVo users are watching them.

Wurtzel said as much as $60 billion a year in ad buys could be affected by the results of this Nielsen initiative.

Nielsen will start reporting the commercials data Dec. 11. For the 2006-07 TV season, the file on commercials will be available at no charge to the networks and ad agencies who have agreed to cooperate.

While he’s not involved now, Wakshlag said he’d be willing to re-evaluate his decision if Nielsen can convince him down the road that its data accurately measures who’s watching the blurbs.

The cable networks that have opted out so far are all of the NBC Universal webs (USA, Sci Fi, Bravo, MSNBC, CNBC), the Turner nets, ESPN and all of its sports siblings and the MTV networks (MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Spike, VH1 and all of their spinoffs).

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