Nielsen delays TV commercial ratings release

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US audience ratings giant Nielsen is postponing plans to release data showing how many viewers actually watch TV commercials. As The Wall Street Journal reported, the delay—forced by US networks—comes amid a major debate on the impact of digital TV recorders, which allow viewers to fast forward their way through commercial breaks.

Nielsen had already put back the release date by a month while it discussed its methodology with network chiefs. US cable trade group the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB) recommended its members not take part in the inaugural research, prompting NBC Universal's cable networks to opt out. That move was followed by Viacom's MTV Networks as well as Discovery Networks, Time Warner's cable networks arm and Walt Disney's ESPN.

According to the WSJ, broadcast networks wanted the scope of the ratings to be narrowed to exclude people watching shows on a digital TV recorder more than two or three days after the original broadcast. Not only do digital TV recorders challenge advertising on the fast-forwarding issue, they also allow viewers to watch shows several days and weeks after they are first aired.

Commercials are sold on the basis that a target audience can be reached in real time. Data shows a large proportion of viewers are watching recorded shows long after recording—between 12% and 18% of viewers aged 18 to 49 are watching recorded shows up to a week after broadcast. Advertisers can still benefit from the impact of their messages a few days after the show originally aired, but that impact recedes over time.

Nielsen's ratings failed to distinguish whether viewers were watching shows two days after broadcast, or a week later, said the WSJ. Hence the networks' call on Nielsen to refine its methodology.

David Poltrack, head of research at CBS, called for action on ad rating research. "We can't go forward another year ignoring the digital video recorder (DVR) audience as it grows more and more significant. We have to somehow build this DVR-playback audience into the economic equation, and commercial ratings are, we believe, the way to do that."

Lovelace Consulting  |  06.11.2006

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