Nielsen Media Research introduced its long-promised commercial ratings system on Thursday, adding another wrinkle to the already chaotic upfront sales negotiations between advertisers and the networks.
The system provides the average rating of all commercials within a show, giving marketers a clearer indication of how many viewers are skipping ads in shows recorded on DVRs.
But since the data is so new, buyers and sellers are wary of putting too much faith in it. Small statistical shifts in the numbers represent hundreds of millions of dollars in the marketplace, and no one is certain how to project commercial ratings for an entire year.
“We’re right in the heart of negotiations between buyers and sellers on which data to use in this upfront,” Lifetime research chief Tim Brooks said. “There is a great deal of confusion in the marketplace because of this.”
Yet the initial figures add weight to what the networks have been saying for years: that a significant number of DVR viewers do, in fact, watch commercials and thus some shows could see significant ratings points added if commercial ratings accumulated within the first three days of live broadcast are counted.
“The ‘live’ rating in my view is irrelevant; it doesn’t reflect how people watch TV,” NBC Universal research prexy Alan Wurtzel said. “It’s time to move on.”
According to the data, however, not all shows and networks are equal in terms of who watches the commercials and when. Nielsen crunched the data from one week in May and found that, for at least 10 shows, the so-called Live Plus Three commercial ratings were higher than live program ratings.
The top shows in terms of number of viewers who watched the ads in the first three days were NBC’s “The Office” and Fox’s “Family Guy” and “Bones.”
Viewer behavior varies greatly between networks and shows. Network primetime shows are the most likely to be recorded and tend to have higher commercial ratings, bolstering the nets’ case that they’ve been short-changed by a system that has, for the most part, compensated them only for live viewing.
The Nielsen data showed that only 58% of primetime network TV is watched live in homes equipped with DVRs vs. 85% for cable. According to Nielsen, about 17% of the nation’s 110 million television households have DVRs.
When commercials were counted in the first three days — the Live Plus Three standard — in independent NBC research of the five English-language broadcast nets, the commercials drew a 3.12 rating compared to 3.11 for the live airing of the program.
Last year, the major agencies refused to do business in the upfront based on anything but live program ratings. But both sides now say a shift is inevitable.
“We feel commercial ratings are a better system than program ratings,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast for Carat USA. “We are going to take the limited data we have and see how we can apply it in this upfront.”