MSOs Missed Out on TVS Chance

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Advertisers missed a tremendous opportunity this year to plan and buy spot television when cable was excluded from the integration of Nielsen Media Research's new total viewing source (TVS) DVD into critical agency buying systems.

While it is tempting to point an accusatory finger at several parties, there are a few critical lessons that we can learn from this hiccup to move forward and ensure MSOs garner our fair share of the local TV advertising business.

Prior to the TVS DVD, the vast majority of agencies did not possess the capability to analyze local broadcast and cable ratings side by side, within the same buying system. (Nielsen sold the cable ratings separately, and virtually every agency in America passed on purchasing a separate cable data tape.)

Moreover, the cable ratings that Nielsen typically produces (within the daypart section of the viewers in profile reports) include cable viewing from alternative delivery systems (ADS), such as satellite. The problem, of course, is that MSOs do not reach these homes with locally inserted commercials.

The introduction of Nielsen's TVS DVD addressed several critical issues, including:

  • The appearance of cable ratings with broadcast ratings within agency buying systems for the first time ever;
  • Reporting numerous local cable ratings for the first time ever by lowering the weekly cume standard to 2.5% within the time period section, numerous local cable ratings are reported for the first time ever; (Today, ad-supported cable regularly accrues half of all viewing in America, but locally no one would ever notice such a figure since the old cume standard kept local cable ratings out of the viewers-in-profile report.)
  • Expressing cable ratings without ADS, and
  • Giving agencies a much more robust picture of local market TV viewing, and not just a bucket of eroding broadcast rating points.

So, What Happened?

In conjunction with their agency clients, several third-party data vendors decided to process Nielsen's new TVS DVD without cable ratings (for agency buying systems.) When will cable finally be included?

Such a decision leads to several issues that speak volumes. For one, agencies have cut themselves off from a major source of local-market TV viewing. It will also be more difficult for local spot agency buyers to serve clients without so many rich local cable-viewing outlets — the same viewing outlets that accrue the majority of all national brand-advertising impressions. And what does the omission say about the buying community's desire to deal with the local cable TV spot industry from a traditional ratings basis?

Admittedly, several cablecasters breathed a sigh of relief at the omission. Their reasoning is clear: Why would anyone want a ton of new and grossly understated local cable rating points showing up in front of agency buyers?

But that's just the point!

Having local market cable ratings in front of agency buyers, no matter how understated they are, is better than no ratings at all. We can work toward better ratings (such as ensuring Nielsen implement a fair and equitable zero-cell diary ascription model), and we can pay for better ratings (local people meters), but the bottom line is that the industry needs to sell with ratings for any client that requires them. And the ones that require ratings most are the largest spot market advertisers in America.

It's very simple: If you don't want their business, just tell them the ratings are no good and refuse to deal on that basis.

Where The Industry Is Going

To place ourselves squarely in the ratings business, several issues need to be addressed, including the need for all third-party ratings suppliers to generate a wired cable universe estimate that reflects an actual cable market footprint, and not just the DMA, which is a broadcast definition that has little to do with how we sell advertising.

Currently, no MSO has such an independent universe estimate, which means the cable industry has been left to its own devices to generate advertising impressions (standard operating procedure for at least 20 years has been to apply a Nielsen rating to an internal subscriber count.) The most important step to take in moving forward is to end this practice.

Ratings should be applied to an independently generated universe estimate based on scientific sampling principles. This will instill tremendous confidence in the marketplace, and maybe next time, agencies and third party vendors won't be so willing to exclude our ratings from standard buying systems.

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