Marketing

Setting a Spot Standard

7/21/2006 8:04 PM Eastern

The cable industry last Friday sent Nielsen Media Research a list of its concerns about the planned tracking of viewership of TV commercials, starting this fall.

After consulting with its members, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau compiled “a master document,” outlining questions that it thinks need to be answered before Nielsen starts releasing average national commercial-minute ratings — at the behest of the broadcast networks — in November.

“Make no mistake, we want to positively impact the evolution of our trading currency, as anyone in this equation does,” CAB president Sean Cunningham said. “We are, however, talking about our trading currency. We are talking about a potential substantive change in our trading currency. That needs to be examined from every angle. That’s what we’re doing.”

On Friday afternoon, Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said he hadn’t yet seen the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau’s questions.

“We have told them if they have a proposal, we’d certainly consider that,” Loftus said. “We’re certainly open, and certainly we’d be responsive, to whatever they want us to report.”

Nielsen took cable networks by surprise in June when it issued a memo to its clients saying that it would start producing the commercial ratings. The measurement company has said that it had met with all its constituents — broadcast and cable programmers, syndicators and ad agencies — seeking input and agreement on a commercial-ratings service.

Only the broadcasters, after reaching a consensus, then came back to Nielsen asking for the commercial ratings — and said they were willing to pay for them, according to Nielsen.

Nielsen has said it is willing to produce different sets of commercial ratings data for any media sector, such as cable, based on its specifications.

“We’ll look at it [the CAB’s questions] right away and, as we said, we’re open to providing the data different ways to different client groups,” Loftus said. “We don’t know what their questions are. We have had discussions with cable networks and with the CAB, so there probably shouldn’t be any great surprises in here.”

CAB officials argued last week that there shouldn’t be a variety of commercial-ratings data available — that, from the start, there should be a single standard.

“As they are going through the process of developing the specs, no one really — even on the broadcast side — nobody’s hammered down the specs of this product,” said CAB vice president of research Ira Sussman. “The question across the industry is what will be the definition of a commercial minute? There are a lot of questions out there. We’re just adding to the questions that we think need be answered before a [data] tape that will have industry-wide implications is produced.”

The CAB’s biggest concerns include how predictable and precise the commercial-ratings data will be.

“We’ve yet to see anything that leads us to believe that you can plan from this data,” Cunningham said. “That is an enormous issue.”

Ad agency Magna Global also has voiced concerns about various aspects of the Nielsen plan.

Magna Global blasted the initiative, arguing that a “commercial minute” should have at least 30 seconds of advertising in it.

October