Yes, nirvana in TV measurement is knowing how many people saw a particular spot and then bought the advertised product, or took the other hoped-for action. But, just knowing how many people watched a single ad is not a bad consolation prize.
The Association for National Advertisers (ANA) has been pushing for that data to be made available since at least 2004. It finally seems to be getting some traction.
One reason is competition. Not long ago, only Nielsen may have been equipped to answer the ANA’s call (which it didn’t). Now, no fewer than eight entities – with Nielsen being one – think they have or can develop a sturdy method to produce what could be described as “true commercial ratings.” (The ANA uses the term “brand-specific commercial ratings.”)
Another reason the ANA may have some wind at its back is the increasing availability of set-top-box – or return-path -- data that allows for second-by-second commercial tracking. The data is seminal in producing any insight into viewership of a single spot.
Nielsen ratings yield the dominant TV currency and may always. But the other research firms are racing to sell data that could act in an advisory capacity to guide advertisers and networks (and perhaps serve as a secondary currency). So, in a commercial ratings summit the ANA convened late last month, presenters included: Rentrak, TRA, Simulmedia, PrecisionDemand, Invidi and Nielsen. Kantar and comScore also have products to pitch and plan to do so via a webinar in March.
If advertisers want the "true commercial ratings" – and the ANA has multiple surveys showing they do overwhelmingly -- there could be a lot of money at stake. Take a deeper look at who’s vying for it. Nielsen, Rentrak and comScore are public companies. TRA was recently bought by TiVo. Simulmedia backers include a Time Warner arm, while PrecisionDemand has a string of venture capitalists behind it. WPP owns Kantar and has a stake in Invidi.
After the summit – where there were 92 attendees from all industry precincts -- the ANA noted in a recap that it wants systems measuring “brand-specific commercial ratings” to be accredited by the Media Rating Council (MRC). The MRC is auditing systems from several entities that use return-path data, but none have been accredited yet.
Further, the ANA indicated Nielsen doesn’t want to leave any opening for a competitor to come in and gain a foothold. Nielsen has already reported back that it plans to meet with clients to discuss their preferences on “brand-specific” data and come back with an action plan next month.
Nielsen also plans to further address the issue of why current ratings, which use an average, can produce such wide swings. (“Jeopardy” on Tuesday may get a 5.0 and then a 1.5 on Wednesday.) The ANA wants to explore if more granular, single-spot commercial ratings can offer more stability and it's seeking information on “the range of error that we should generally expect.”
The trade group also indicated it will keep pressing for those true commercial ratings. Fortunately, it now has a captive audience in all those well-funded research firms looking to win the blessing of its membership.