What the TV business did was shift to a metric that on one level was not so transformative from what it had used for years -- an average, and not specifics.
To be sure, there was advancement in a move from average viewing of a program to average viewing for just the commercials. But that was still far from a track of how many watched a beloved Doritos spot in the Super Bowl. (The most notable achievement in the new metric may arguably be the ability to capture DVR-enabled viewing.)
Still, the Association of National Advertisers is continuing its 4-year-old push to bring true commercial ratings -- or "brand-specific" ad measurement -- to the market. That spun forward Thursday as ANA chief Bob Liodice cited progress, saying the necessary technology for Nielsen to offer the individual-spot ratings should be in place by year's-end. Liodice declined, however, to cite a timetable for the deployment of the ratings system, but he indicated that could come next year.
He said marketers are still hunger to know: How many people watched my spot? The "analytic power that brand-specific commercials will provide" will be major progress in how they plan their buying, he said.
For Nielsen's part, the measurement company isn't so certain a launch of the sweet-spot "brand-specific" ratings is imminent. While Nielsen acknowledges it could soon provide the information, obtaining commitments, meaning money, from clients to ensure it is an entirely different matter.
A Nielsen representative poured cold, though not freezing, water on Liodice's bullishness. "We will support the industry when and if they want commercial ratings," he said.
Horizon research chief Brad Adgate noted that the current C3 metric has been viewed by many as just an "intermediary step," or weigh station, on the road to the ad-specific numbers.
On the surface, commercial ratings offer a wealth of opportunity for buyers and sellers. But their prospect is riddled with questions and contradictions.
On the one hand, they would provide marketers with considerable insight into a particular ad's resonance -- or when it has run its course. Then again, that could be pretty expensive real-time testing. Focus groups are hardly foolproof, but a far lot cheaper than a big buy on ABC.
Creative agencies could find themselves in some battles with clients. Would poorly rated commercials they've crafted really be their fault?
Or, would that be the result of what shows the ads ran in -- and where inside a show. If an ad came after a spot touting a weekend pillow-case sale at Kohl's, that could be trouble. "You certainly don't want to be penalized by following an ad that doesn't perform as well," said Charlene Weisler, an industry researcher.
That is also an issue for networks. Suddenly, they could be in the business of evaluating creative. If a spot has poor ratings, they might have to hand cash back to clients, who've been guaranteed a certain performance. Not only could a clunker of a spot bring a low rating for the advertiser, but it could send viewers away, diminishing ratings for the spots that follow it.
Networks would likely have to do even more -- and constant -- experimentation with, and monitoring of, pod positioning. The value of the first spot in a break could potentially go up exponentially, while one in the middle could suffer just as dramatically. Taking greater pains to ensure that ads run in rotation could become more critical.
And positioning challenges might upend networks' long-held promotional model. Would it make sense to cede that first position in a break to advertisers rather than keeping it for their own promos? Horizon's Adgate suggested a network confident in the power of its creative might insert a promo in the middle of break to maintain attention for the spots following it, but if viewers have turned away, what good is that?
Certainly, networks would welcome even more movie trailers. Considered some of the more engaging spots, their presence might provide a high-tide-lifts-all-boats dynamic for all advertisers.
Will the ANA gets its wish, the sweet spot of commercial ratings? Weisler said: "We're headed there, but I would understand why both advertisers and networks would want to go slow, each for different reasons."