While average commercial minute ratings are seen by most advertisers as a significant improvement over program ratings, many marketers are still pushing for a system that measures the audiences for specific spots.
They may want to push harder for that advancement, given a provocative new analysis of the so-called C3 ratings system by P.J. Leary, the North American CEO of media audit firm Ebiquity.
In effect, Leary argues that the C3 ratings approach, put in place for the 2007-08 network TV season, almost forces broadcasters to game the system -- to the potential disadvantage of many advertisers.
Historically, he says, broadcasters have insisted that they strive to offer a fair and equitable rotation of premium pod positions. Now, he states, "that's no longer in their interest."
Ebiquity research has found that ads running in the first position of a commercial pod average 28% higher awareness compared to advertisers receiving mid-break placements.
The basic problem with the C3 system, Leary contends, is that the audience levels for the spots are based on average ratings for each break. As a result, the position of a commercial in the break, the length of the break and commercial length do not have any impact as far as calculating the numbers are concerned.
But for broadcasters, the position in the break now makes a huge difference -- it determines how much they can charge and therefore, how much money they can make, argues Leary. In theory at least, a clever, engaging ad in the first pod position will keep larger audiences tuned longer in the break, while a dumb or boring ad in the first slot will chase viewers away immediately.
"C3 Ratings incentivize broadcasters to influence the sequencing of ad content. And if broadcasters can increase their ratings by changing the ad sequence, you can bet they'll do it," he says. "Their goal is to minimize the audience exodus and maintain a higher average viewership across the break, thereby increasing advertising revenue."
In a bid to minimize commercial zapping, broadcasters are likely to lead pods with catchy ads for a new tablet, followed by a movie premiere ad, Leary argues. There is nothing sexy about ads for toilet paper and high cholesterol medications or spots for other prosaic essentials, which "are likely to get buried in the middle -- and less effective -- portion of the break," Leary states.
"Broadcasters have an agenda in programming ad positions -- and the ratings methodology encourages them to do it," the analysis concludes.
His recommendation to advertisers: "prepare yourselves with data, collect relevant insights and negotiate your best position. Advertisers are right to fight for gold standard positions in pod (first, second or last) and should insist that they get their fair share or better."
A switch to a system that measures specific commercials -- favored by the National Association of Advertisers -- would put pressure on advertisers and agencies to deliver highly engaging, ratings-grabbing spots all year round -- and not just for events like the Super Bowl or the Oscars.