Rating Commercial Viewership

The advertising world is all atwitter over news today that Nielsen will
start offering viewership numbers for televised commercials beginning
with the new fall season. Using the same 10,000 set-top boxes they use today to measure the incredible consciousness-melting power of American Idol, Nielsen proposes to give the first accounting ever of just how many people tune out during the commercial break. Media executives everywhere anxiously await the dramatic fallout:

The Wall Street Journal reports that executives at both TV
networks and advertisers expect the new Nielsen ratings will show that
viewership declines noticeably when a program breaks for commercials.

Wait. You mean people actually change channels and go to the bathroom during commercials? You’re kidding. Advertising executives everywhere are shocked and amazed at this new development, not to mention outraged:


should go down," media buyer Bruce Goerlich, executive vice
president at ZenithOptimedia told the paper. "If I was a
buyer, I would be taking the stance of, ‘Quite frankly, what you said
you were delivering, you weren’t.’"

It’s shocking I tell you. Just shocking. (I love the "if I was a buyer" routine. Uh, hello Bruce. You ARE a buyer…) The only thing worse than the paper-thin positioning from advertisers and network execs is the utter lack of insightful reporting from some leading ad industry analysts. Many are rushing so fast to be the first guru to unveil their vision of the future they fail to see through the smoke and mirrors. Here’s one typical remark:

Either way, as advertisers see hard numbers that show their television
investments are even less accountable than they suspected, they will
begin to seek new outlets at a faster pace than they have.

"Hard numbers"? Where did anyone get the idea that Nielsen delivers hard numbers? The recent problems Nielsen has had justifying its ratings adjustment for Tivo viewers demonstrated just how much secret sauce they’ve been adding the ratings mix. In this article from MediaPost, Lifetime’s EVP of Research explains how Nielsen cooks the numbers:

"If important demos are underrepresented in
its sample, Nielsen frequently uses mathematical factors, giving them
more "weight," and raising audience levels ascribed to those demos in
its final ratings… …
Nielsen’s calculation systems are so complex,
especially since they’ve weighted people in the database so that a
person is not a simple person. A person is 1.1 on one day and 1.5 on
another day."

It makes sense. I mean, why waste money on quality programming to raise audience levels when you  can just use a complex mathematical factor? I suspect the same concept will work quite nicely for commercials. 

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