CAB Has Questions for Nielsen

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The cable industry Fridaysent 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 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.”

Nielsen spokesman Jack Loftus said Friday afternoon that he hadn’t seen the CAB questions yet.

“We have told them that 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 ratings company has said that it met with all of its constituents -- broadcast, cable, syndicators and ad agencies -- seeking input, and agreement, on a commercial-ratings service.

Only the broadcasters, after coming to a consensus among themselves, then came back to Nielsen asking for, and willing to pay for, the commercial ratings, according to Nielsen.

The company has said that it is willing to produce different sets of commercial-ratings data for a media sector, such as cable, based in its specifications.

“We’ll look at [the CAB’s questions] right away and, as we said, we’re open to providing the data different ways to different client groups, and we’re very open to that,” 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.”

But CAB officials said last week that there shouldn’t be a variety of commercial-ratings data available, and 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,” CAB vice president of research Ira Sussman said. “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 industrywide 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.”

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