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Nielsen Preps Data Launch

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NEW YORK At a meeting of more than 100 clients Thursday, Nielsen Media Research said it would provide the data necessary for agencies and TV networks to create minute-by-minute ratings for all dayparts for intervals of up to seven days, beginning April 24, 2007.

The data, which includes DVR playback numbers, will enable the TV industry to begin using commercial ratings as an ad-buying currency if it so desires.

However, the launch date is just three weeks before the broadcast networks' upfront presentations, at which they unveil programming for the 2007-08 season and open negotiations for commercial buys.

Some media agencies question whether this would permit commercial ratings data to be used as currency in the upcoming upfront, since there would be little time for a thorough test.

"It seems like this timetable will preclude us from having enough time to analyze the data ... to make sure it is accurate and usable," said Lyle Schwartz, svp, director of research and audience analysis at Group M. "I am disappointed that we will not have the complete data sooner."

But at least one broadcast executive, David Poltrack, chief research officer at CBS, said he expects his network would use the data Nielsen provides for those clients who want to buy ads based on commercial ratings (rather than programming numbers) in the May upfront.

Sean Cunningham, Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau president and CEO, agreed that the April 24 date could give executives sufficient leeway to use the new currency in their upfront negotiations. "It'll be a squeaker, but in theory we could have reasonably correct data to placate those vocal few who want to use the commercial ratings currency in the upfront," he said.

The data Nielsen releases in April would become part of its regular syndicated ratings package, along with its program ratings. Most Nielsen clients are expected to wait for that release, rather than pay extra to subscribe to Nielsen's NPower service and translate the data themselves.

And there are still kinks to work out, such as how to measure commercials viewed in playback on VCRs.

Poltrack said media agencies are amenable to paying for commercials played back in regular mode as opposed to fast-forward, but the Nielsen system at present has no way of providing such information. Poltrack said Nielsen has agreed to a study among its households to establish a new metric that will assign a value to VCR regular-mode viewings.

Nielsen said it would be up to the clients to determine whether minute-by-minute ratings or the average commercial minute rating per show is used as negotiating currency.

During the meeting, Nielsen presented an analysis of DVR viewing among adults 18-49 years old. According to the study, 76 percent played back broadcast network shows and 85 percent played back ad-supported cable and syndicated TV shows within two days. The DVR playback within three days was 84 percent for the broadcast network shows, 89 percent for cable shows and 91 percent for syndicated shows.

Other data showed that in homes with DVRs, among adults 18-49, nearly 50 percent of all prime-time TV usage is in DVR playback mode, much higher than the 18 percent for cable.

"It's easy to see the reason why the broadcasters want to rush for a viable trading currency to be done in time for the next upfront," said CAB's Cunningham. "Think of how much money will be left on the table if they're still selling on just a live-only basis."

Said Sara Erickson, Nielsen general manager of national services, "This was a very productive meeting in which diverse opinions were expressed. We will continue to review the various options and seek additional opinions on what best meets the needs of the industry. It seems clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to commercial ratings, and that providing the industry with multiple tools is the best approach."

Nielsen is owned by Adweek and Mediaweek parent VNU.