Nielsen Commercial Ratings Debut

NEW YORK Nielsen Media Research begins issuing its commercial ratings today, and the company disclosed some revealing data about how DVRs—now in 17 percent of U.S. homes—have changed viewing patterns.

Based on data for prime time the week of April 30, 42 percent of network TV in DVR homes was viewed in playback mode, while 58 percent was watched live.

“About half” the viewers watching in playback mode “are skipping through the [commercial] spots,” according to Pat McDonough, svp, planning policy and analysis at Nielsen.

At the same time, many programs have registered higher ratings with the new system than based on traditional viewer measurement.

For example, NBC’s The Office averaged a 3.1 program rating, but garnered a 3.7 commercial rating that included three days of DVR playback. This so-called “Live plus three” metric is likely to be used for negotiating many upfront deals this year, both buyers and sellers have said.

The new data won’t give either buyers or sellers an advantage during the upfront, McDonough said. Rather, “there is more information to make better decisions” during talks, and both sides “will be coming at it from an improved data set,” she said.

Early data also show that viewers are recording more broadcast shows than cable programs. That tendency is probably driven by the fact that cable networks repeat original episodes several times a week, said McDonough.

The new ratings system is one reason this year’s upfront will last longer than usual, as buyers have indicated they want to take several weeks to analyze the data before entering negotiations.

Under the new system, a “Commercial Minute” is defined as a 60-second span with “one or more seconds of commercial content,” said Sara Erichson, evp, client services at Nielsen. Such content includes national branding and direct-response spotsx2014;but not network program promotions or public service announcements.

Erichson acknowledged that the new service might not be around for long, based on indications from advertisers that they would prefer a system that measures specific spots, rather than supplying an average.

“It’s very possible that this is in fact a stepping-stone,” she said. But a system providing more granular data would also cost more for Nielsen to provide and clients to access.

She added, “Our technology enables us to measure individual thirty-second commercials. It would require some investment to change how we report” the ratings.

For clients, “It’s a balance between more granularity and the utility of having so much more information and the ability of their systems to manipulate it. Ultimately, whether we go there or not will be dictated by our client base,” she said.

Adweek and Nielsen Media Research are units of the Nielsen Co.