Media Agency Pushes Nielsen On Ratings

Mediaedge:cia executives want Nielsen Media Research to begin offering on a test basis this fall to all clients a cumulative rating per TV show for just commercials, with the hope that if the test goes smoothly, it could become the new currency on which ad buys are based beginning with the 2007-08 upfront.

Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer at the media agency, and Lyle Schwartz, director of research and marketplace analysis, said in recent weeks they have been meeting with broadcast and cable network executives to try to develop a consensus for having Nielsen move forward on this. They have also spoken with Nielsen executives.

Under its proposal, Nielsen would continue to measure total program ratings as it does now, but would also issue, on a daily basis, ratings broken out just for commercials, and just for program content. The latter would ensure that the networks would still be able to know the viewing levels of shows, while giving the ad community a more specific measure of eyeballs viewing advertising. “We can put an average commercial rating per show together ourselves using Nielsen data, but it would only be usable for our own agency,” Schwartz said. “If Nielsen can do it and offer it to everyone, it can become an industry standard and be used as a negotiating tool.”

Scanzoni and Schwartz stressed their discussions have been preliminary at this point, and their decision to go public with the proposal is an attempt to spur industry dialogue.

Jack Loftus, svp, communications for Nielsen, acknowledged that preliminary talks have taken place with Mediaedge:cia executives and some Nielsen execs, but nothing has reached the point of clearly defining what Nielsen should or will do in this area. Said Loftus, “Specifically, what they are looking for has not been clearly defined, and we have not been formally approached with an industry consensus, so we can’t say if it is feasible or not.”

Nielsen has been offering minute-by-minute ratings since last September through its NPower software system, and several media agencies have subscribed to it. But Scanzoni and Schwartz said that while these are helpful in assessing info on specific commercials for specific clients, and can be used to put together buying plans for clients, they cannot be used as an industry standard negotiating tool. Offering one average commercial ratings number for a show would make that possible.

“Clearly, we need to do something for the long haul,” Scanzoni said. “The current system is just not going to work going forward. Our concern is not for the upcoming upfront, but for 2007-08 and beyond.”

Scanzoni said the feedback from the networks has been positive, and the other agencies under the GroupM umbrella, MindShare and MediaCom, also support the proposal.

Dave Poltrack, evp and chief research officer for CBS Corp., said, “Conceptually, I have no problem with it, and I think it is something worth looking into.” Poltrack agreed that Nielsen issuing an aggregate commercial rating per show would be more stable and reliable than having to deal with minute-by-minute ratings on a commercial pod-by-pod and show-by-show basis.

An NBC rep said, “We’re certainly open to looking at new measurement methods. However, we simply don’t know enough about commercial ratings at this point.”

Other agency execs gave conditional support to the Scanzoni/Schwartz initiative. Steve Grubbs, CEO of media agency PHD North America, said, “As a first step, I would endorse the concept of using commercial ratings [as a negotiating currency]. But I think we need to gather more in-depth knowledge of how they can be best used. I’m not sure coming up with one rating based on all the commercials in a show is the best way to go.”

Added Charlie Rutman, CEO of MPG North America: “Commercial ratings are a good idea, but I am not sure they are going to be the end-all, be-all.”

Scanzoni and Schwartz are hoping that they can build an industry consensus for Nielsen to begin test-releasing commercial ratings by show with the start of the 2006-07 TV season. “We would love to sit down and openly work with the other media agencies and the networks on moving this forward,” Schwartz said.