Nexstar, Largest U.S. TV Station Owner, Will Back Off TV Ratings for Ad Deals (EXCLUSIVE)

Courtesy of Nexstar

The nation’s largest owner of television stations said it intends to drop the use of traditional TV ratings as the basis for advertising deals, and will instead work to tell sponsors about the number of people watching its programs in aggregate, no matter if they use a living-room screen or mobile device.

Nexstar Media, which operates nearly 200 stations across 115 different markets, intends to rely on counting unduplicated audience impressions, and using those numbers as the critical element in how many people view programming. Tim Busch, president of the company’s Nexstar Broadcasting unit, says he has been working with Comscore, a media-measurement concern, to provide advertisers with audience measures across TV, digital, mobile and streaming-video outlets.

“We wanted to sell all platforms, indiscrimiately of where our viewers are found, whether they are on their tablet, on their desktop, on their television, on their mobile device or whatever may be to come,” Busch told Variety in an interview.  He added: “Advertisers want to reach as many people as possible through as many resources as we have available, and the buying process needs to get easier.”

Many TV-station owners have in recent weeks expressed a desire to stop using TV ratings in advertising discussions. The feeling among executives is that at a time when audiences are getting video across many different kinds of screens, using ratings in one instance and other measures in another is crimping talks with sponsors. Web-based video is often sold based on audience impressions, rather than the ratings that have long dominated talk about how much commercial time in a TV show is worth.

Last month, the TVB, the trade organization that represents more than 800 TV stations and TV broadcast groups, said it had begun pressing Madison Avenue to start using viewer impressions as a base for striking ad deals. NBCUniversal’s local stations and Hearst Television have both said they intended to abandon TV ratings for advertising discussions. Among some station owners and executives, there’s a feeling that relying on impressions will help lure more national advertisers, who may be looking to place commercials for fast-food restaurants and retail-sales events in the best-watched programming in a particular local market.

Without this move, says Busch, “you’d be stuck where you are currently, which is selling separate ‘thousands’ for all your digital and non-linear products, and selling ratings for your TV products. We have enough obstacles in the national spot world. We need to get better at doing and transacting business. This is part of that process.”

Nexstar’s decision is likely to carry more weight than others.  The company, which bought Tribune Media in September for $4.1 billion, has become the biggest operator of local TV stations – many of which are affiliates of NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC in small and medium-sized U.S. markets. And Nexstar has been working with Comscore for a year on technology that will allow it to deliver measures of both linear and digital audiences, says Busch. With the new data, the delivery of which is part of the company’s contract with the measurement service, “we are able to aggregate, de-duplicate and sell one set of eyeballs. When a company says ‘I want to reach your viewers,’ which happen to be their consumers, we are of service to the advertiser to the fullest extent of what we can provide.”

Television viewership for decades has been determined by Nielsen, which can tell advertisers how many people are watching linearly, and then break that large mass into smaller chunks based on age, gender and other qualifying attributes. Yet in an era when video audiences are migrating to new kinds of consumption of everything from segments on MSNBC to “Modern Family,” the group of people crowding before a big living-room screen has started to dwindle, and the digital sessions sprouting in their place are more difficult to track. That’s prompting networks, stations, media buyers and technology firms to ramp up efforts to provide new kinds of counting metrics.

Nielsen, the company that provides the data upon which TV ratings are based, said in a statement Monday that it supports local stations moving to work with impressions. “With the increase of cross platform campaigns, stations are looking to use impressions rather than percentages for comparability across platforms. Nielsen has always provided clients with impressions and they are the foundation for all of our calculations,” the company said. “That said, ratings, reach and frequency will still have a strong place in the planning and programming processes. The need to know unique audience is critical to the marketplace.”