Nielsen Delays Commercial Ratings

NEW YORK Nielsen Media Research has postponed the release of commercial ratings data that had been scheduled for Dec. 11.

The company, a unit of Adweek parent VNU, did not provide a new issue date. Nielsen said it would schedule a “client meeting” in coming weeks to discuss the delay and other issues related to controversial ratings proposal.

Sources attributed the delay (Nielsen’s second as it struggles with the launch) to one network’s decision to “opt out” of the system altogether to protest the company’s decision to issue live commercial ratings.

One source identified ABC as the network. ABC declined comment.

If one of the four major networks opts out, the commercial ratings initiative could collapse, per sources.

In a letter to clients, Nielsen said the delay was due to the fact that its day-by-day playback analysis had “further stimulated industry conversation” about how many days of playback should be included in whatever commercial ratings are issued.

“Accordingly, we concluded that the best course of action is to have further discussions with national clients regarding the possibility of a new data stream for commercial minute data in order to ensure that the data file that is released contains the information that clients need,” the letter said.

The postponement comes days after the company issued new data to clients detailing program playback patterns by DVR users for the week of Sept. 25.

According to one network’s analysis, the numbers showed that about two-thirds of all playback of broadcast network prime-time programming (on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox) took place the same day that it was recorded. About 75-80 percent of all playback occurred in the first two days, per Nielsen. The data fueled an ongoing industry debate about how ads should be bought and sold in the future.

Ad buyers this season insisted on paying only for so-called “live” viewing that doesn’t include payments for audiences watching in playback mode.

Earlier this year, the networks agreed to fund a new stream of data to provide average ratings for commercials airing in each network program, but on a live plus seven days of playback basis. By having a live-plus-seven commercial data stream, the networks had hoped to end the debate, because ads that are skipped in playback mode would not be credited.

But several weeks ago, under pressure from advertisers and agencies, Nielsen agreed to issue additional streams of commercial ratings data, including both live and live-plus same day playback.

This angered some network officials, because, as one put it, “There is just no way live commercial ratings are ever going to be acceptable currency and it just clouds the issue.”

Nielsen agreed to issue such ratings because buyers wanted to analyze the viewing patterns revealed in the live data for commercial ratings.

Network sources said they would press for a file that contains commercial ratings for two days worth of data, which averages between 75-80 percent of all playbacks. “We think that’s a reasonable compromise between the ‘live’ standard that buyers want and the seven days of playback we’ve wanted,” said one source.