TNS To Pitch Role In Nielsen's Commercial Ratings, Data Reveals Cable Concerns

The most interesting presentation at today's special Advertising Research Foundation forum on Nielsen's new commercial ratings won't be made by Nielsen, broadcast, cable or even ad agency executives. It will come from Jon Swallen, senior vice president-research at TNS Media Intelligence. Swallen will reveal new data showing the duration and composition of TV commercial breaks and how they may or may not impact audience ratings. He also will make a case for why TNS, which is 100% dedicated to monitoring commercials, might be a better source than Nielsen for reporting that component of the new ratings.

Swallen's presentation this afternoon, which will come immediately following Nielsen's own update to the industry on the steps it has taken and the progress it has made to fix certain methodological issues related to how it monitors TV commercials, and how it will integrate that data into its audience estimates to produce the new commercial ratings, is expected to emerge as a key discussion point during the meeting, because some executives believe TNS simply does a better job than Nielsen.



"There are two pieces of the puzzle that need to be integrated," Steven Fredericks, president-CEO of TNS MI told MediaDailyNews Tuesday prior to today's presentation. "One is the audience piece, which is what Nielsen does. But the other piece is when the commercial occurrences appear during the program. On the commercial occurrence perspective, that's our core business and we've been doing it for 80 years."

Fredericks would not say whether TNS has taken any specific steps to adapt its commercial data as a component of a new ratings currency, or whether it has approached the Media Rating Council for accreditation, but he said an announcement might be made following today's meeting.

"All I can say right now is that we will do whatever is required to provide the best data for the industry. And we'll do whatever the industry requires.

Those requirements potentially could have bearing well beyond Nielsen's new average commercial minute ratings. TNS MI's sister division TNS Research, has begun rolling out a plan to create a new TV audience measurement system in the U.S. based on a census of actual audience behavior data derived from cable and satellite set-top boxes. It already ahs agreements with several cable operators and with satellite giant DirecTV, and commercial monitoring data could end up being a key component to commercial ratings from such a system.

Meanwhile, TNS MI's Swallen provided MediaDailyNews with a sneak peak of an analysis of commercial pods TNS recently conducted of major broadcast and cable networks and TV syndicators. The data goes a long way toward explaining why some cable networks might be loath to have commercial ratings data flowing freely in the marketplace.

Methodological issues aside, the data reveals that some cable networks are among the worst abusers of non-programming clutter - commercials, promos, PSAs and other non-programming content - during their commercial breaks.

The analysis, which was based on a four-week period from Aug. 21-Sept. 17, found that the top third of cable networks run an average of 8.9 units during the average commercial break - twice as many as the 5.6 units averaged by the bottom third of cable networks, and significantly more than the 7.3 units averaged by the four broadcast networks.

Swallen would not identify specific cable networks, but it is generally known that the worst offenders are among the biggest cable networks.

Aside from airing more overall commercial units, Swallen's analysis reveals that cable networks are also the worst offenders when it comes to placing their own promo spots in the most desirable pod positions the so-called A and Z positions which appear at the start and end of commercial breaks.

"You've got to look at this from the perspective of the media user - the consumer - not the media seller," said Swallen. "The hypothesis is that the characteristics of a pod - the position of commercials in a pod and the composition of the pod - is going to impact commercial audiences.

"There's a group of cable networks, that on average, deliver pod durations that are 50% longer than another set of cable networks. That has to have an impact on their commercial ratings."


AUGUST 22 - SEPTEMBER 17, 2006



Avg. Pod Duration


Avg. # of Units Per Pod




·    Highest Third



·    Middle Third



·    Lowest Third









·    Highest Third



·    Middle Third



·    Lowest Third



Source: TNS Media Intelligence


1 Based on pods containing paid national ads. Includes all spots in these pods - national & local; paid ads, promos & PSAs

2 Excludes live sporting events

Source: TNS Media Intelligence.
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