TNS Issues Challenge For Open Test Of Commercial Data, Nielsen Demurs

In a lively, sometimes impassioned forum on Nielsen's plans to introduce average TV commercial minute ratings later this year, more than 100 industry executives debated definitions, methods and the utility of the new ratings, which some saw as a stopgap measure toward the ultimate goal of either second-by-second ratings or ratings for specific TV commercials. But of the roughly 70 executives who attended the Advertising Research Foundation committee meeting, or the scores who listened in on the phone or via webcasts, not one representative of the most important stakeholder - advertisers - was present. The "buyer's" voice was represented by Judy Vogel, the OMD media research diva who also chairs the American Association of Advertising Agencies' influential media research committee, who championed the concept of "more granular" data, and also the ability of Nielsen clients to determine how they get data identifying which commercial minutes are being rated.

The notion that such data should be available on an "open source" basis, not surprisingly, was advanced by Nielsen's primary competitor in that part of the business, TNS Media Intelligence, which pitched itself as a better, more qualified and higher quality alternative to Nielsen's Monitor-Plus service (MediaDailyNews Oct. 25). In fact, TNS MI's Senior Vice President-Research Jon Swallen proposed that the industry conduct an open, side-by-side test of the two services to determine which is more accurate and would be better to incorporate into the new commercial ratings process.

"We are prepared to undergo a comparative analysis - a comparative test between TNS Media Intelligence an Monitor-Plus," Stephen Fredericks, president-CEO of TNS MI told MDN in an interview following the ARF meeting, adding, "It should be conducted by an objective third party."

While some of Nielsen's clients attending the meeting seemed to support that idea, it was unclear whether Nielsen did or would. When asked about the suggestion, Nielsen representatives sought to deflect it, noting that they already had applied to the Media Rating Council for an audit of Monitor-Plus and MRC accreditation to use it as part of a TV ratings service.

TNS MI also has applied to the MRC to audit its data with an eye toward accrediting for use in a TV ratings service, and Fredericks and Swallen said the MRC ultimately may provide a forum for a direct comparison between TNS MI's and Nielsen's commercial monitoring data. However, that process may take time, and would not be as transparent as an open market comparison.

Another option might be for Nielsen clients to simply use third-party processors to integrate TNS MI's data with Nielsen's TV ratings for their own commercial minute ratings. Several Nielsen clients, including Starcom MediaVest Group and The Weather Channel already are processing Nielsen's ratings data that way, though it wasn't clear at presstime whether they were using Nielsen's or TNS MI's commercial data to do it.

Fredericks noted that TNS MI's data currently is used by 80% of media companies and "60-70%" of ad agencies.

TNS MI is scheduled to meet with the MRC on Nov.14 to discuss its plans.

The issue of who supplies the so-called commercial "occurrence" data and what the quality of that data is not so inconsequential said ESPN's Glenn Enoch, who presented the cable network's own analysis showing that only 25 % of Nielsen commercial minutes ratings data are fit for use right now.

It's not a trivial matter when you get down into the nitty-gritty," Lifetime Television's Tim Brooks, and chairman of the ARF committee told MDN following the meeting. He said a lot of the discussion surrounding commercial ratings to date has focused on "high level" issues, but that little details influencing the quality of the commercial data can have a profound impact on the accuracy of the ratings they generate.

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