Les Moonves Is on a Mission for C7 Currency

Like digging for pennies

While Les Moonves appears to have mothballed his side gig as the grand prognosticator of the upfront, the CBS Corp. president and CEO remains outspoken about the marketplace as a whole. Speaking to investors this month at a Deutsche Bank media confab, Moonves took another run at TV’s prevailing currency.

“We hit a tipping point this year, which is why in the fall, the numbers were tough to read,” Moonves said, before adding that only 60 percent of CBS’ prime-time deliveries are live. As such, the media boss advocates a switch to a more inclusive currency. Rather than adhere to the six-year-old C3 metric, Moonves is banging the drum for buyers to accept guarantees against an additional four days of DVR playback.

“I don’t know if it happens this quickly, but it will happen within a year,” Moonves said. “The measurement is already there. They give us C7 numbers now. Now it’s a question of the advertising community … to accept this.”

CBS boasts one of TV’s most perspicacious research teams, so obviously Moonves has seen evidence that there’s value in C7. Trouble is, from a practical standpoint, the extra days of time-shifted viewing barely move the ratings needle.

According to Nielsen average commercial-minute data for the first half of the season (Sept. 24, 2012-Jan. 13, 2013), a shift from C3 to C7 makes an almost imperceptible difference in actionable deliveries. For example, the extra four days of DVR viewing added just 438,000 viewers in the 18-49 demo, representing a 1.3 percent increase in commercial deliveries. Upon application of C7 data, total deliveries grew just 1 percent, from 84.5 million viewers to 85.4 million, while the more inclusive stream lifted adults 25-54 by just 455,000 viewers, an improvement of 1.3 percent.

“It’s like tearing your sofa cushions to pieces while digging for a few extra pennies,” said one rival ad sales boss of Moonves’ proposed shift. “There are incremental gains, and then there’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

(Given that it already takes Nielsen three weeks to generate a seven-day batch of C3 data, adding even more numbers in the stream could only delay the results further.)

Analysts believe C7 is a moot point in an era where the DVR is now the top-rated “network” at 10 p.m. “You can try boosting viewership via C7 or even C14, but the ads are simply not being watched,” said BTIG’s Rich Greenfield. “Trying to charge advertisers for ratings points that are not generating ad views is a nonstarter.”

Moonves’ demands for a more generous ratings sample represent only a fraction of his concerns about media’s overarching data issues. “All we want is a fair measurement—we want Nielsen to measure everybody, and ultimately, we want an eyeball to count as an eyeball no matter where you watch your television shows,” he said.

On that score, even CBS’ rivals agree. “Measurement has always lagged behind media, but now it’s like we’re a lap behind,” said one network sales boss. “We can’t afford to be complacent.”