Network Press, Sales Groups Tout Different DVR 'Standards'

Major broadcast networks like Fox may be pushing Madison Avenue to accept all of the viewers who play back TV shows recorded via digital video recorders as the basis of future advertising deals, but their publicity departments are promoting a different standard to the press: only those viewers who play back shows the same day they are recorded. The divergent strategies reflect the differing needs of network sales and publicity departments, and come at a time when major media agencies are asking networks to hold off on DVR playback ratings altogether and stick with so-called "live" ratings until things can be sorted out.

While the major broadcast networks have not officially announced their DVR playback ratings policies for the balance of 2005-06 season scatter sales, or for 2006-07 upfront ad buys, they've made it clear in discussions with agencies--and in a rare joint press briefing late last year--that advertisers should accept as much of the playback data as possible.

Beginning with the week of Dec. 26, 2005, Nielsen Media Research began releasing three streams of ratings data: "live" only, "live" plus same day of DVR playback, and "live" plus seven days of DVR playback. Nielsen has maintained that it is up to its clients to determine which of the data streams to utilize for their purposes, polarizing the industry with buyers favoring "live" only and network sales departments championing "live" plus seven days of playback.



That's a problem for network publicity departments, which must dole out daily ratings data to TV critics and industry trade reporters, because the only timely data they have is either "live" only, or "live" plus same day of DVR playback.

That issue came to a head when Fox's publicity department issued its national ratings release for the week of Jan. 2 to Jan. 8 with the headline: "Nielsen 'Live Plus Same Day' Ratings Now Standard."

But Elissa Johansmeier, executive director, publicity & corporate communications at Fox, said that standard is not necessarily the policy of Fox's sales department, only the policy of Fox's publicity department.

"From an ad sales point of view, we've never come out and said what the standard is," she said, declining to state what the sales department's policy actually is. But if it's not "live" plus same day, and it's not "live" only, as agencies have been asking for, then it can only be "live" plus seven days.

Last week, Carat became the latest major media shop to adopt a "live" only policy, calling on the major networks to stick with "live" ratings through the 2005-06 season, and asserting that "more discussion" was needed to vet the DVR playback data for 2006-07 deals.

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