Commercial Ratings Get Industry Approval For Upfront
One of the buyers--Starcom CEO John Muszynski--revealed that his agency actually did three deals based on a form of commercial metrics in last year's upfront, likely minute-by-minute ratings. And he intends to push aggressively to make commercial ratings the standard this spring. "I have every intention of doing that this year," he said at the annual TV forum hosted by the ANA.
Muszynski also said he would like to do at least one experimental deal that goes deeper, and negotiate a guarantee based on second-by-second data with a "select player or two." That would allow a marketer to gauge an individual commercial's performance at the extreme granular level.
Group M's chief investment officer Rino Scanzoni said there was "no doubt" that commercial ratings would be in play this upfront. ABC's President of Sales and Marketing Mike Shaw said his door is open, and he was eager to do some deals last year involving commercial performance, but no agencies were set up to do it. (Muszynski objected--saying Starcom was, although Shaw said the Chicago-based agency's ABC deal didn't include any of those metrics.) "Nobody was in a position to take us up on it," Shaw said.
Buoying Shaw is evidence that a high percentage of viewers stay tuned through its ad breaks. He also said ABC would be introducing five tactics leading into the breaks aimed at continuing tune-in. Those tactics will be unveiled to buyers today at a development meeting ABC is conducting in Los Angeles, although no details were offered. (Turner last week proposed a similar initiative and other networks have moved in that direction.)
Nielsen is expected to begin releasing the commercial-ratings data in May, just before the upfront negotiations begin. If the industry decides to use them as a currency, a period of analysis could delay the deal making. It has been widely speculated that commercial ratings wouldn't make an upfront appearance until 2008.
Commercial ratings can take various forms, from the average rating of all commercials in a program, to ratings for individual spots (a preference for marketers). Another hot-button issue: how to value commercial viewing when done in time-delayed fashion via DVRs. Shaw said he expects ABC to make deals on a variety of metrics (perhaps three or four different ones) this spring, with commercial ratings just one. Others would be based on an assortment of gauges for ROI and ad performance.
Turner's Advertising Sales President David Levy indicated that buyers want commercial ratings--and his company, which includes TNT and TBS, would look to oblige. "We will accept the change and negotiate accordingly in this upfront," he said.
Cable sellers have had some objection to using the new ratings data, due to issues involving whether local avails can be separated from national commercials. But Levy said if the local spots can be pulled out, Turner would likely be on board.
One heavy-spending client and commercial-ratings advocate, Andrew Jung, a senior director at Kellogg, was asked Tuesday whether his company would refrain from doing deals without commercial-ratings guarantees. He stopped short of an all-or-nothing threat. "We could. but I think it's more of an industry issue," he said, citing an imminent need for the buying-selling community to adopt the standard. In a speech, Jung said 92% of top ANA members want the new ratings. "Will the industry wake up and listen because the voice is getting a lot louder?" he said. "Without this change I'm not sure how long TV can be sustainable."
What emerging media would be sold in the upfront along with traditional spots? Shaw said the broadband streaming of ABC shows on its Web site would probably be included, although VOD and wireless aren't likely, since the network is still trying to determine what inventory is available.
Turner's Levy said broadband would be on sale at Turner--although product placement wouldn't, since those deals require such long lead times mandated by script reviews and production schedules. Group M's Scanzoni is eager to purchase broadband in the upfront: "Consumers are more engaged; they tend to recall the commercials better," he said. So far, the dominant ad model for online streaming has been short pre-roll ads, although some networks such as the CW are employing mid-roll spots.
Muszynski called for using strong metrics for online consumption--knowledge about how many people visit a site and how much time they spend--to develop a similar gauge for TV, thus providing greater accountability data. "Let's take a look at what we've learned from the digital space and apply that to the more traditional media," he said.
While supportive of commercial ratings, ABC's Shaw suggested that another ROI-centric metric be employed: sales results. He said his network would like to be held accountable, based on whether sales figures experience a bump post-ad broadcast, but marketers refuse to share the data. To be sure, there would be other factors that could influence a sales jump, but marketers' bottom lines would be enriched, nonetheless.
As for the yearly upfront question--whether the bazaar will continue to exist--Scanzoni said it would be around in 2107. "I think the upfront will be around for the next 100 years."