Nielsen-BlackArrow Pact Could Speed Adoption of On-Demand Ratings

Dynamic ad insertion makes all VOD content relevant

Nielsen’s mandate to begin offering on-demand commercial ratings (ODCR) has come closer to fruition, as the TV measurement giant is on the brink of being able to insert current commercial loads into library VOD content.

In a deal that will be formally announced Wednesday morning at the NCTA Cable Show, Nielsen has teamed up with the ad-tech firm BlackArrow in a partnership that promises to help speed up the implementation of ODCR. BlackArrow’s software not only allows for the dynamic insertion of relevant ads in older episodes of shows, but it is sufficiently scalable to provide for a national rollout of a real-time ad replacement service.

Say, for example, you recently stumbled across CBS’ new comedy series, Friends With Better Lives. Whether it’s because you’re a Dawson’s Creek fan from way back or you simply want to make googly eyes at Brooklyn Decker, you decide you’d like to catch up on the three previously-aired episodes you missed. 

Under the current C3 ratings system, CBS probably wouldn’t care one way or the other if you are playing catch-up with Friends With Better Lives, because, frankly, your patronage is no longer of significance to the network’s advertisers. The commercials in the older episodes that you’ve accessed on VOD are old hat … and wholly irrelevant, as far as Nielsen and media buyers are concerned.

(A promo for the film Captain America: The Winter Soldier that aired during the March 31 broadcast and is now stuck in the VOD stream like a bug in amber does Disney very little good, as the movie opened four weeks ago, on April 4.)

That’s where BlackArrow comes into play. By allowing the operator to switch out ads in VOD content on the fly, BlackArrow makes every older streaming episode an environment for the same ads that are now airing in CBS’ live broadcasts. As Nielsen’s ODCR scheme is designed to measure VOD deliveries that occur beyond the three-day window, those once-neglected views are now just as valuable as live ratings. 

“What we provide is the simplification of the automating operations and workflow needed for programmers to get credit for those ODCR [deliveries],” said Chris Hock, svp of marketing and business development at BlackArrow. “As so much viewing is happening outside the three-day monetization window, we effectively can pull those impressions back into that standard window.”

As the erosion of prime-time broadcast ratings threatens to undermine confidence in the medium, the networks are turning to VOD as a means to super-serve both viewers and clients. Dynamic ad insertion only sweetens the pot.

The Nielsen-BlackArrow pact comes as the networks increasingly look for ways to help wean viewers off the DVR, which makes commercial-skipping as easy as holding down a button while staring off into space. A far more advertiser-friendly service, VOD promises to add incremental value to linear TV buys. At the same time, viewers needn’t worry about running out of memory or forgetting to record a favorite show. (As fans of CBS’ The Good Wife can attest, VOD also eliminates the headaches associated with sports overruns.)

Statistics demonstrate why VOD will go a long way toward recapturing commercial deliveries lost to the DVR. According to Nielsen, during live viewing, the commercial ratings index is 96 percent. In content that is watched via the DVR, that figure drops to about 50 percent. In stark contrast, VOD and its hampered skip functionality boasts the highest commercial index: 98 percent.

While Nielsen late last year shared the results of a successful technical test with Comcast, ODCR is not yet ready for prime time. “This is not a product yet, and we don’t have a firm date as to when we’re going to be able to bring it to market,” said Brian Fuhrer, svp product leadership for Nielsen. “We’d love to be able to bring it to market in the fall, but we still have a lot of hurdles to clear before we’ll be ready to take that step.”

Having Comcast onboard is clearly a feather in ODCR’s cap, given the size of the cable operator and its ownership of NBCUniversal. “Operators are always looking to secure from the content owners the full-season rights for VOD, and Comcast has really led the charge to compete with the over-the-top options,” said Dean McCormick, vp, advertising solutions, BlackArrow. “All of this is designed to help build out a more sustainable on-demand model—which in turn will benefit the overall TV ecosystem tremendously.”

Along with Comcast and NBCU, CBS has publicly thrown its support behind the adoption of ODCR. No surprise, that, given the network’s lead in the adoption of a C7 ratings currency. (While the C7 numbers currently offer only a slight improvement over the C3 standard, even the addition of a one- or two-tenths of a ratings point here and there may free up hundreds of millions of dollars in hitherto uncredited deliveries.)