Nielsen Defines 'Commercial Minute,' Can Be One Second

More than half a century after it began measuring the medium of television, Nielsen Media Research finally has a working definition for what constitutes a national commercial minute: Any minute that includes even one second of a national TV commercial, excluding public service announcements and network promo units, and usually, but not always program sponsorships. Nielsen began circulating the definition to clients on Tuesday and asked for their feedback on it - and whether to also include direct response TV ads or not - before settling on a definition Sept. 20. That date is significant, because it will come one-day before Nielsen's clients will hold their own summit to decide how Nielsen should process the new commercial minute ratings.

The decisions finalized by Nielsen and its clients over the next few weeks ultimately will reset the currency of the $60 billion national television advertising marketplace from program average audience estimates to commercial average audience estimates.

Nielsen said it considered two methods for including the duration of national commercial minutes, including a more stringent definition that would have included only minutes that contained at least 30-seconds of national commercial content, but said it was leaning against that method because it would exclude almost a third of all minutes that contain national commercial content.

Nielsen said it was less confident about how to handle direct response advertising and asked its clients to weigh in on that decision. "Our thinking has been to exclude direct response advertising as well but we have received input both to include as well as to exclude it. . Accordingly, we are soliciting feedback regarding whether direct response ads should be classified as national commercials."

To help with that decision, Nielsen released the following definition of direct response commercials: "Direct response is a form of advertising used to sell goods directly to consumers. Direct response advertising is different from general consumer advertising in that it calls for 'immediate response' either through a 1-800 number or by mail. Direct response advertisements usually feature products unavailable in stores and focus is on selling 'now' rather than building an image for the advertiser. The advertisements are characterized by emphasizing the ordering information with statements such as 'Here's how to order'. "

Using that definition, Nielsen would include commercials for Nautilus' Bowflex exercise equipment, and Orange Glo's Oxiclean as direct response ads.

As for program sponsorships, Nielsen generally excludes them from its commercial minute calculations, though some sponsorships containing full-motion video are credited as national commercial minutes, especially those running ten-seconds in length, which are often referred to as "IDs."

Nielsen's plans to settle on a standard definition by Sept. 20 is a race to resolve some big questions before its clients meet Sept. 21 at NBC's headquarters in Rockefeller Center for a summit being organized by Mediaedge:cia Chief Investment Officer Rino Scanzoni and NBC President of Research and Media Development Alan Wurtzel.

Some of the chief concerns prompting that summit have already been addressed, though not necessarily resolved by Nielsen. One was that the commercial minute data used for the new ratings is derived from Nielsen's Monitor-Plus service, which is not accredited by the Media Rating Council. Nielsen said it would apply for accreditation.

Another big question concerned Monitor-Plus' measurement of cable networks, including the fact that it cannot currently identify local cable commercial minutes, and does not measure all cable networks. Nielsen subsequently announced plans to begin monitoring all cable networks and to introduce new technology that can identify local cable commercial minutes.

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