CBS Vows To Release Commercial Ratings For Cable, If Nielsen Proves Unable

If the cable industry is successful in convincing Nielsen to withhold data for cable networks when it begins releasing its commercial minute ratings in November, at least one major broadcast network says it will process and release the cable numbers on its own. "If cable isn't on the tape, it doesn't mean we can't get the numbers," David Poltrack, president of CBS Vision, and head of the network's research operations said last week following an ad hoc summit of Nielsen clients in which cable executives vowed to hold the line on the controversial new ratings until some key questions are resolved.

"When you get into a room like that, there's a lot of discussion vs. a theoretical ideal, but once we start getting the data, the discussion will be whether we are better off using this or are we better off using program data," Poltrack added, emphasizing, "That's the bar. The bar isn't getting perfect data. The bar is getting something that is stable and that for an advertiser provides a greater degree of accountability for their commercial exposure. And I think we are going to get the answers for that fairly soon."

That's not been the position of the cable industry, which has rallied against the release of the new commercial ratings plan ever since Poltrack sprung the news on the industry during a surprise announcement of a unified broadcast network plan during an Advertising Research Foundation conference last summer.

The cable industry and some ad executives pointed out that the data may be flawed in several ways, including the fact that it does not currently measure local cable advertising minutes, and that it is derived in part from Nielsen's Monitor-Plus service, which is not currently accredited for TV ratings. Cable networks have been uniform in their opposition and during last week's summit called on Nielsen to withhold any commercial minute ratings - for both broadcast and cable networks - until the issues can be resolved.

Late last week, Nielsen executives said they still were uncertain how much data they would release beginning in November, and whether any of it would include commercial minute estimates for cable networks, but Poltrack said CBS' research organization is prepared to conduct its own, proprietary analysis of commercial minute ratings for cable networks and to release it alongside the official Nielsen estimates.

Poltrack said CBS, which operates two of the largest TV syndication companies, also is committed to releasing commercial minute ratings for syndication, even though he says bigger problems exist for producing them than for cable networks.

He says it is important to release the data so that the industry can begin evaluating whether it is better than the programming ratings that have been the basis of the TV advertising marketplace for more than half a century.

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