Clutter Study Standoff

The TV commercial clutter study was absent from the 4A’s media conference this year because of a dispute over paying CMR’s fee.

CMR requested nearly triple the fee it previously charged the 4A’s and the Association of National Advertisers to measure broadcast and cable networks’ hourly nonprogramming time, bringing the cost to $48,000. Under a three-year contract that ended after last year’s survey, the 4A’s and the ANA paid $17,000 a year.

John Wolfe, 4A’s director of public affairs, said CMR had “sandbagged” the groups by not allowing enough time to work out a solution in time for last week’s conference.

For the study, CMR tracks commercials and other nonprogramming time per hour in each daypart for one week in May and November.

Donna Campbell, 4A’s vp of media services, said the trade groups’ dues have declined because of the industry slowdown, making it difficult to justify spending more money on the survey.

George Shababb, CMR svp of strategic planning and development, countered: “If the amount we could agree on was even close to allowing us to break even and still do the study, we would have made an effort to do it.” He would not disclose CMR’s research costs.

The 4A’s and ANA approached Nielsen Media Research about conducting the study. Nielsen (owned by Adweek parent VNU) sought a $50,000 fee, sources said. A Nielsen rep would not confirm the amount.

While most media buyers say the clutter study is valuable, some said their membership dues might be better spent on research into ad effectiveness or the impact of TiVo on TV households. Said Renetta McCann, CEO of Starcom North America, “[Clutter is] not the most pressing issue in the business anymore.”