The Ad Skip Blip

NEW YORK While viewer erosion continues to be a big problem for TV, network and agency analyses of Nielsen’s C3 ratings for premiere week shows, a greater percentage of time shifters watched network TV ads during the first week of the season versus a year ago. While buyers noted that the uptick in viewers watching ads via DVR playback — about 2 percent — pales in comparison to the upwards of two-thirds of all DVR watchers who continue to skip the ads, there’s some hope in the air.

David Poltrack, chief research officer, CBS, said, “The medium continues to deliver in a DVR environment in a way that is comparable to pre-DVR context. DVRs enable more TV viewing.”

The number of ad skippers trending downward is “substantial,” added Lyle Schwartz, director of implementation research and marketplace analysis at WPP’s GroupM. “On a live-plus same day [DVR-watching] basis, the networks are down 5 to 6 percent [in viewing]. So picking up two percentage points is a big deal,” he said.

C3 is the shorthand term for ratings that measure audiences to network ads including three days of DVR playback viewing. It was adopted as the industry yardstick for buying and selling ads two years ago. There’s a three-week delay between the airing of network programs and the issuance of their C3 ratings.
 
Why viewers skipped fewer ads remains unclear. The networks have been testing different commercial pod loads and positioning in their programs, but it could boil down to the fact that more recent DVR converts simply aren’t as determined to avoid ads as their early adopter counterparts, sources said.

Still, noted Schwartz, erosion continues to plague network TV, particularly NBC, ABC and CW, which are all sharply down in audience.
 
According to the premiere week C3 ratings, ABC posted a 12 percent decline in the key sales demo of adults age 18 to 49, to a 3.1 versus the same period a year ago. Both NBC and CW were down 18 percent, according to the first week’s numbers, to a 2.6 and 0.9, respectively. But CBS was up about 2 percent to a 2.9, and Fox was up 13 percent year-to-year to an average 3 rating.

This season, with DVR usage on the rise — and penetration up to 33 percent from 26 percent a year ago — all the nets posted bigger Week 1 C3 audiences versus the viewers tuning in on a live basis. Almost three-dozen programs received a double-digit percentage boost in their 18-49 rating compared to the live programming numbers. NBC’s The Office was the biggest gainer with a 27 percent increase. Fox’s Dollhouse surged 24 percent and the CW’s Smallville earned a 23 percent gain.

In households, CBS’ NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles and Fox’s NFL spillover into prime time earned the top three spots in the C3 rankings.

However, “we’re still seeing that large tune out,” noted John Spiropoulos, svp, director of marketplace analytics, Publicis Groupe’s MediaVest USA, referring to the 60 percent or more of viewers watching shows in playback mode that skip through the ads.

Spiropoulos is not counting on a lot of those viewers changing their behavior over the long term, despite efforts by nets to tweak pod positions and efforts by creative agencies to make ads more palatable. “Fox tried limited commercial loads last year and couldn’t get the rates to justify expanding it,” he said.
 
The industry, Spiropoulos added, will get a clearer picture of viewing trends next year when Nielsen starts incorporating some online viewing data into the national TV sample. Lots of details still need to be worked out, however. The plan is to incorporate online viewing feeds that contain all the spots airing in the original net feed. But whether major sources of online video viewing participate remains to be seen. Spiropoulos believes some may adopt a model where they rebroadcast feeds with the full complement of ads, but also offer an alternative subscription model that’s ad free or close to it.