Live-Plus On Table For Ad Ratings

When advertisers, agencies and TV networks meet with Nielsen officials on Nov. 30 to discuss what data the company should include in its commercial ratings, much of the debate will focus on a new stream that would calculate audience levels based on live viewing plus two or three days of DVR playback.

Earlier this year, agencies and their clients insisted on basing ad buys on “live-only” program ratings for the upfront market. But buyers now say they are open to including some amount of playback viewing into the calculation of commercial ratings. That’s because spots that are skipped in playback are not counted as part of those ratings.

However, sources say there’s disagreement among networks about how many days of playback to include. ABC, with oft-recorded shows like Grey’s Anatomy, is said to favor live plus seven days, while other networks say two or three days would be acceptable.

“We’re certainly open to discussing live plus two days or three days, but we would expect VCR recording to [be eliminated] first,” said Steve Sternberg, head of audience analysis for Interpublic’s Magna Global.

Nielsen has always included all VCR recording as part of the viewing estimate because it never figured out how to measure VCR playback only. Sternberg said that adds 5 percent or more to the audience levels of dozens of programs. “VCR recording is still much more significant than DVR playback is,” he said. It will be years, he said, before DVRs, now in about 12 percent of U.S. homes, supplant VCRs, still in about 89 percent, as the dominant recording format.

Lyle Schwartz, svp, research and marketplace analysis at WPP’s Mediaedge:cia, said his agency was also open to a discussion about including some DVR playback in commercial ratings. “We understand the impact of the DVR in how people view programming,” he said. “We know we have to factor in commercial viewing even if it isn’t live.”