Shirley, Shirley, Bo Birley Bonana Fanna Fo Firley, Fee Fy Mo Mirley, Shirley!

Up top is the first line of Shirley Ellis' lyrics for the popular oldie "The Name Game." A stanza or two into the song, she proceeds to explain her process -- the rules -- of naming:

Come on everybody!

I say now let's play a game.

I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody's name.

The first letter of the name, I treat it like it wasn't there.

But a B or an F or an M will appear.

And then I say bo add a B then I say the name and Bonana fanna and a fo.

And then I say the name again with an F very plain and a fee fy and a mo.

And then I say the name again with an M this time and there isn't any name that I can't rhyme.

Taking a cue from Shirley and her approach to The Name Game, I'd like to discuss The Numbers Game, and the necessity of establishing a process by which we in the media community -- traditionalists, onliners, and digitalists -- can begin dialoguing about the shaping and melding of viewing, behavioral and lifestyle metrics in the digital televisual realm.



When I first joined the National Broadcast Buying/Programming Department of BBDO in April 1975, the buying teams were already ensconced in the springtime ritual of estimating or projecting the prime-time ratings for the upcoming broadcast season. At that time there were three broadcast networks, cable was a gleam in Ted Turner's Superstation aspirations, and syndicated programming was simply reruns of black and white shows that predominantly aired on independent TV stations. These numbers (shares, ratings and viewers per household) would be utilized in the pre-Memorial Day upfront negotiations. In those days the majority of upfront deals would be consummated before the long weekend began.

The agency's research group would provide the sacred tools by which all was divined: the HUT book, program shares and pocketpieces. Nielsen's Homes Using TV (HUT) tool would delineate the historical number of households that would have their TVs turned on by day, daypart and time period; the "primetime shares" green sheets would list each TV program and the percentage of viewing households they aggregated during the previous broadcast season (fourth quarter through April, which we referred to as season to date); and the Nielsen pocketpieces would provide historical colored grids for the prime-time shows and competition. Then the national program buyers would be called together, over a lunch of sandwiches or pizza, to debate and generate the program shares for the upcoming negotiations that usually began promptly after the swanky network upfront presentations.

Overall, the program shares, after much deliberation and massaging, would more or less be the same each year -- with some minor tweaking when a hit program was moved to another night. Thus programs had longer lifecycles, hammock positions within the network schedules provided meaningful sampling, the 8 p.m. time period was thought of as the foundation of the evening's network schedule, there was a dearth of alternative forms of entertainment and Nielsen numbers were as projectable then as they are now.

As we have all experienced, the second half of the 20th century featured television as the dominant medium -- embraced by the advertising community and cherished by a loyal population -- and The Numbers Game for television viewing: time-worn, procedural and acknowledged by all of the vested constituencies. Thirty-plus years later, the media and advertising community is splintered by the plethora of digital platforms vying for a consumer's multitasking attention, and we have yet to arrive at The Numbers Game for the converged playing field. A simple example: the traditionalists are comfortable -- or accepting -- of the audience reportage from Nielsen, for, let's say, the popular prime-time program "House," which generates 14.7 million viewers (season to date), and the onliners praise Yahoo's Home Page, where embedded video resides, for generating 27 million unique visitors a day. How do we create an articulation of these figures that enables us to translate or meld these numbers across media platforms in order to generate and implement a cohesive media plan? I'd love to work toward the televisual Numbers Game that is universally translatable by all constituencies -- no matter how ephemeral. At least it would be a beginning. Anybody have any ideas?

In closing, I'd like to share with my good friend and solicitous colleague Manning Field the following:

Manning, Manning, bo Banning Bonana fanna fo Fanning, Fee fy mo Manning, Manning.

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