Attack of the Pod People

C3 is good, but pods are the thing. If only Nielsen would realize this and agree to measure and report commercial pods in time for the 2009-10 upfront buying season.

DVRs changed everything. Nearly one-quarter of U.S. homes have at least one DVR. Roughly 35 percent of all prime-time viewing in DVR homes is time-shifted. We obviously can’t pretend that everyone is still watching live television. And there is mounting evidence that the time-shifted audience (younger, more upscale, more attentive) is in fact more valuable than the live audience.

Since DVR owners time-shift much of their viewing, when DVR penetration increases, live viewing is driven down. But total television viewing is not. At the same time, we know that about two-thirds of commercials are fast-forwarded during playback. This, of course, makes live programming an antiquated and unacceptable surrogate for measuring viewers to our commercial messages. Any marketplace currency must focus on a commercial-based measurement.

Why commercial pods and not individual commercial minutes? Nielsen is currently limited to reporting viewing at the minute level. Although it has done some analysis using 30-second intervals, Nielsen has not yet been willing to make sub-minute data its standard measurement. [Like Adweek, Nielsen Media Research is a unit of the Nielsen Co.]

Given this limitation, commercial pods as marketplace currency are far superior to either C3 or exact minutes.

C3 certainly gives us a better read than program ratings on the overall commercial exposure of our buys. But because it is an average number, it does not get much closer to gauge specific commercial performance. Ratings for commercials near the beginning of an hour-long program, for example, can be dramatically different from ratings for commercials toward the end of the show. Magna’s research has indicated that about two-thirds of all “A minutes” (first minute of a commercial pod) over-deliver C3, while about two-thirds of all other minutes under-deliver C3.

Using commercial pods offsets all of these problems. There is no question that the pod surrounding an individual commercial (typically 2-4 minutes) will be closer to the actual commercial rating than an average of all commercial minutes throughout the program. It is also clear that using a string of consecutive minutes will minimize the amount of programming and fast-forwarding counted as commercial viewing. The internal minutes will by definition contain no programming, while the first and last minute will have at least half the minute as commercial time. The disparity between individual minutes within a pod will also no longer be an issue.

Using exact minute ratings as marketplace currency would cause a whole host of problems. Nielsen’s antiquated rules for allocating viewing to a given minute were designed at a time when virtually no one had a remote control, and it actually took a minute or so to get up and change the channel. Yet Nielsen’s editing rules, which were not designed for individual minute reporting, have remained unchanged, and continue to allocate full credit of viewing to a minute that may only be actually viewed for less than 30 seconds.

The stability of single-minute measurement is questionable, particularly for lower-rated networks or programs. Clearly, individual minutes are not projectable from one telecast of a program to the next.

We should not hold programmers responsible for how individual commercials or creative executions perform. An advertiser certainly has the right to know the exact minute audience that views its commercial. We can provide that information when requested, but the networks should not be held to guaranteeing that number.

Looking at a string of consecutive minutes is a more stable measure, and limits the amount of program time erroneously included in a “commercial minute.” The first and last minute of the pod will have at least half its content as commercial time, and the internal minutes of the pod will, by definition, be pure commercial minutes. This will limit the amount of program time erroneously included in a “commercial” minute and the amount of fast-forwarded material being counted as commercial viewing.