Nielsen: 'Oops, Commercial Data Full Of Bloops'

A day after Nielsen released a much-anticipated update to clients explaining how it defines "national commercial minutes," the TV ratings researcher issued a correction to the data used to support its rationale. The gaff comes one week before some of Nielsen's biggest clients will hold their own ad hoc summit to deliberate on how commercial minutes should be defined and how Nielsen should measure their audiences.

"The 'Definition of a Commercial Minute' attachment to this communication included a spreadsheet with commercial-minute-to-program-minute indices. These indices were incorrect," Nielsen disclosed on Wednesday, adding that the faulty data has no bearing on Nielsen's preliminary definition of a commercial minute.

But the timing of the glitch couldn't be worse as Nielsen makes a last ditch effort to sway clients in advance of their summit Sept. 21 at NBC's offices in Rockefeller Center. Nielsen, which said it is leaning toward a definition that defines any minute containing even one-second of a commercial as a "national commercial minute," has asked its clients to weigh in on its definition by Sept. 20, the day before the summit.



Nielsen said a correct version of the analysis, which had faulty data for CNN, Headline News, MSNBC, VH1 and Warner Brothers programming, would be issued on Monday.

Other elements of Nielsen's definition, including its decision to exclude direct response ads, and its definition of what constitutes direct response advertising, have raised questions.

One expert says the definition, which includes spots that offer "immediate response" via 800 phone numbers or mail, do not reflect the current nature of an industry that has been transformed by the Internet, interactive response mechanisms and a shift toward-brand building techniques, as well.

"Being in the business as long as I have, I've seen how direct response has evolved to meet the changing times and consumer habits and I think that Nielsen should recognize there is a new [direct response]," said Michael Medico, president of E&M Impart Media Services. Medico said 800 numbers and mail are actually a "very small and shrinking part" of the direct response business, and that Nielsen's definition does not recognize how brand marketers have begun utilizing direct response in their mix.

"Today there are many advertisers, from financial service and insurance companies to internet retailers and pharmaceutical companies that effectively use [direct response] to achieve multiple objectives including "brand building and awareness," Medico said.

Other parts of Nielsen's definition are likely to stir debate, including its decision to exclude some forms of program sponsorships, but not others, creating a loophole for people who buy certain formats.

Meanwhile, the error in Nielsen's commercial-minute-to-program-minute index data is raising the eyebrow of at least one client. "After all, if you cannot rely on the data in a Nielsen client communication, how do you rely on Nielsen daily ratings," he said, adding, "Where is the QC -- quality control?"

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