Data comes too late to affect sweeps

Nielsen Media Research detailed its plan to measure commercials, but the data will come too late to impact ad sales for the coming TV season.

Nielsen set May 31 as the date it will roll out six streams of ratings data to measure commercials, twice the number it uses to measure programs.

But the data will come too late to meaningfully affect sales for the coming TV season, network execs said. It’s another sign it will be business as usual at the upfront sales talks, which begin in mid-May.

“It’s really waiting until after the last minute,” said Tim Brooks, Lifetime exec VP of research. “It’s too close to the new season to be used in a commercial way.”

The networks have been eager to get commercial ratings data to bolster their case that they should be paid for viewers who watch commercials played back on DVRs.

Advertisers have refused to pay for any viewing after the live airdate of a given advertisement, arguing there is no way of knowing if or when any of the ads are being watched.

The dispute was the major flashpoint at last year’s upfront negotiations, where the networks ultimately agreed to table the issue until the following year.

Nielsen’s commercial ratings are designed to track viewing of commercials up to a week after the initial airing.

They will include three categories, or streams, of data: live viewing; live plus DVR playback on the same day; and then live plus DVR playback after one, two, three and seven days.

That doubles the number of current program ratings provided.

“With the growth of digital television and the increased use of DVRs, Nielsen is developing new measurement tools and metrics that provide more detailed information on what viewers are watching and when,” said Sara Erichson, Nielsen general manager of National Services.

The additional data will give advertisers and networks a better idea of when a commercial is being viewed, but any change in the ratings currency is fraught with risk for both advertisers and TV networks.

“This does put pressure on (networks) and advertisers to make sure advertising is appealing and attractive,” said Turner Networks research chief Jack Wakshlag.

Nielsen is still ironing out kinks in the system, including difficulties in distinguishing between local and national ads on cable and accounting for commercials in syndicated programming that run at different times and on networks in different markets.

A spokesman for the Media Research Council, which accredits any new measurement system, said it is eager to begin an audit of the new system, but that won’t begin until it is fully implemented.

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