Nielsen Launches DVR Ratings

NEW YORK As ad buyers and sellers debate the impact of digital video recording on the value of commercials, they will start to get new data on the phenomenon next week from Nielsen Media Research.

As part of its national daily report, the ratings company (owned by Adweek parent VNU) today said it would start issuing two new sets of program data, in addition to the existing ratings for real-time (or “live”) viewing.

On Dec. 28, Nielsen will issue the first new ratings set, which adds same-day program playbacks. On Jan. 17, Nielsen plans to issue a second ratings set, which adds seven-day program playbacks. (The company said its research shows that on average 90 percent of all played-back DVR viewing occurs within a week after a show has been recorded.)

While this initial DVR viewing data will likely fuel the debate, industry experts said it is unlikely to be used to buy and sell ads, because Nielsen will only include 60 DVR homes in its 9,000-home national ratings sample—less than 1 percent of the estimated 7 million DVR homes in the U.S. today.

According to Pat McDonough, Nielsen’s senior vice president of planning and policy analysis, the company will add DVR homes to the national sample at a rate of about 100 per month. DVR homes will be fully representative in the sample by July 2006, he said.

In order to accomplish that goal, however, Nielsen has to install its new digital people meter (known as the a/p meter) in DVR homes so that recording and playback can be detected and reported.

The big question for advertisers remains to what extent viewers will use DVRs to skip through commercials. Earlier studies have shown widely varying results.

A joint study issued in September by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers—based on Nielsen data—found that, on average, the difference in viewing levels between programs and their commercials was only 5 percent, far less than many industry researchers believed was the case.

For some programs and genres, however, the difference can be greater than 50 percent, the study revealed.