Five Questions for Sean Cunningham


Last month, the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau initiated the creation of a Commercial Ratings Commission that would try to coordinate efforts within the broadcast and cable television industries to collect data on TV commercials and set standards to establish how widely ads are viewed. The efforts will help determine how pricing is set for the $69 billion worth of TV ads that get shown each year. The first meeting of the commission was June 11. Multichannel News editor in chief caught up with CAB CEO Sean Cunningham in midtown Manhattan, shortly after the meeting concluded.

MCN: Where does the Commercial Ratings Commission’s work stand?

SC: We convened the first meeting this morning. What was interesting was we were busting at the seams in a 30-person room where 30 was the maximum capacity. We probably turned down politely three people for every one chair.

This was not promoted, this meeting. We picked people very carefully from the agency side, from the broadcaster side; we asked SNTA [the Syndicated Network Television Association], we asked our own board members who are heads of ad sales for cable networks, we asked research people, we asked Nielsen [Media Research], we asked MRC [Media Rating Council], we asked Donovan [Data Systems, a processor of advertising transactions]. All arrived. Everyone we hoped would come, came. The ANA [Association of National Advertisers] was there.

Before the meeting even started, the demand outstripped supply three to one.

MCN: Who else wanted in?

SC: A lot of agencies wanted in. Any vendor, any third-party provider, any one who might be competitive currently or in the future to Nielsen or Donovan certainly wanted in.

That’s the role of future meetings, at the end of the day. Many of my own board members didn’t get in. I have a 24-person board. Six got in.

MCN: What turned out to be the big issues?

SC:First of all, to just have some kind of a uniform understanding of the issues. The reason we put together this commission was for accelerated discovery for everyone. We’re talking about going into a currency change some time in our future. A big reason to get everyone together was to accelerate what would have happened otherwise in small groups, in one on one meetings.

The top part was what exactly was going to be the role of the commission. This is about proactively anticipating how you provide excellence in reporting and accountability to clients who are looking for TV to be their continuing lead instrument.

It was not a “here are the four things that are going to get precisely resolved” meeting. It was more about setting the frame.

MCN: What did you take away?

SC:The unanimous belief that this is really important to do. And, there doesn’t seem to be a single entity possessed of the full picture. This could be the single entity that ultimately possesses the full picture, because it has got the different constituencies coming to the table. In the future, by the way, it’ll have their competitors coming to the table.

I think it turns into a dual mission. For everyone who has flesh in the game, our mission is to address current processing issues, while keeping an eye on assuring the best granularity of data for the future.

MCN: How do you, in that case, figure out what the rating is for a Cisco Telepresence “ad” on the monitors in the White House on 24? Worse, how do you determine how much promotional value GEICO gets out of a show built around cavemen? How do you register the impact of creative that has merged with content?

SC: There are a lot of such hypotheticals. I don’t know what the GEICO-meter is. Right now, there is not a coherent methodology for doing that.

For the TV industry, that’s an extra-credit project, while we are still struggling with basic math.