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Nielsen Unveils New Ad Yardstick for Madison Avenue (EXCLUSIVE)

Nielsen, which for years has backed a system under which advertisers paid for TV commercials based on the number of people of a particular age or gender who saw them, now wants to be able to offer Madison Avenue a different kind of yardstick.

The media-measurement concern, whose ratings provide the bedrock of TV-industry economics, has come up with a way to help advertisers buy based on different criteria. Under current norms, marketers ranging from Apple to Zyrtec use Nielsen to determine how many men or women between the ages of 18 and 49 saw a commercial – and pay based on those measures. With new Nielsen technology in place, advertisers like General Motors or Mondelez International might instead count the number of first-time car buyers or likely purchasers of lunchbox snacks they reach, part of a burgeoning technique that is known in the industry as “audience buying” that’s gaining favor as rival digital outlets allow for more precise targeting of consumers.

Advertisers want to “take some of the real-time targeting they’re doing on digital and enact that for television,” said Kelly Abcarian, senior vice president of product leadership at Nielsen, in an interview.  “Audience buying has been starting to happen in dribs and drabs, if you will, in smaller pockets across the TV networks,” she added. Nielsen’s new effort “will allow clients to do this more seamlessly.”

Nielsen said it is forming a partnership with clypd, an advertising technology company that helps media companies manage their sales efforts. The alliance allows advertisers to share information about media plans as well as define audience segments using Nielsen data and will facilitate the purchase of advertising based on definitions beyond the traditional ones based on age and gender.

With more consumers gravitating to mobile tablets and on-demand streaming video, the primary fuel of TV – linear audiences – has eroded. To keep ad dollars flowing, the media industry needs to find ways to better monetize digital viewers, and many TV networks have begun to strike deals based on more narrowly defined audience characteristics. Donna Speciale, president of ad sales at Time Warner’s Turner, has said she hopes 50% of the ad inventory of her company, which operates CNN and TNT, among other TV networks, will be sold via audience buying by 2020.

These pacts allow the TV companies to get paid for viewership, no matter the screen in question, and might even let them charge a premium for finding an advertiser’s most likely consumer base.

“We didn’t invent the concept of using other data,” said Joshua Summers, CEO of clypd, in an interview. “But historically it’s been very hard for that to scale in use due to a lot of barriers.”

As the industry waffles over implementing a standard measure that would count a more diffuse band of people watching programs via tablets and broadband, some individual companies have struck out on their own – threatening to make a complex marketplace even more so.

In March, Viacom, 21st Century Fox and Turner unveiled a new alliance called “Open A.P.” that lets advertisers buy based on audience segments like expectant mothers or likely movie-goers across all three companies. Each member of the trio does its own ad sales and none of them are selling packages across each other’s turf. They are simply guaranteeing that a particular audience segment is defined the same for each company’s advertising inventory.

Nielsen isn’t trying to supplant efforts like “Open A.P.,” said Abcarian. Indeed, its data is used to help that system work. But its partnership will let advertisers buy defined audience segments across a wider array of TV outlets. Clypd does business with more than 60 different networks, the executives said, and its clients represent 42% of TV’s annual $74 billion in U.S. ad spending. Fox Networks Group and ESPN also work with clypd.

Discovery Communications said it is working with the new partnership. Demand for buying based on narrower audience definitions “has been tremendous,” said Keith Kazerman, group senior vice president at Discovery. “This is really what the industry has been talking about for quite some time: How do we alleviate the hurdles and obstacles? This answers many if not all of those questions.” Whether advertisers and other media companies embrace the partnership remains to be seen.

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