Buyers, Sellers Divided Over Role Of Commercial Ratings

While some leading buyers are clamoring to use commercial ratings in upfront negotiations as soon as next month, an executive who engineers a massive budget said Thursday he'd like to see the industry hold off for a year.

Larry Blasius, executive vice president/director of negotiations at Magna Global, hopes this year would serve as a "transition," in which buyers and sellers would both evaluate the new data Nielsen releases in late May--comparing and contrasting the new with historical performances--and avoid rushing into premature deal-making. He cited the nexus between commercial viewing and DVR-enabled ad-skipping as a particular area of concern.

"Let's sit back, and see what the data says," Blasius said on a panel discussing the coming broadcast upfront at the MediaPost Outfront Conference. While he favors a "more measured" approached, he will be guided by marketplace demands. "We'll do whatever we think is in our clients' best interest," he said. He declined, however, to suggest specifics, citing client confidentiality.



Fox president of sales Jon Nesvig, who joined Blasius on the panel, said he and his colleagues on the broadcast sell-side are keeping an open mind about how the coming release of commercial ratings might affect the $8 billion-plus [prime-time] upfront market. "It's going to take [getting] a handle on what the marketplace is," he said. "All of us on the sales side are willing to look at it."

A major question is: which faction of the buy-side will trump the other? Will it be those pushing to use commercial ratings--something clients have lobbied for? Or those in the Blasius camp, who prefer to engage in tests and slow implementation over the next year?

A similar divide looms on the DVR issue between buyers and sellers. Both agree they must settle on one standard currency. Will they agree to negotiate on just "live" ratings as they did a year ago, or based on ratings that incorporate some DVR-enabled, time-shifted viewing? "We've got to come together on this issue. Period. End of sentence," Blasius said.

Dennis McCauley, another panelist and co-president of sales at Univision, seemed slightly more eager than Nesvig to negotiate on commercial performance: "We're prepared to go whichever way the marketplace goes."

Supporting McCauley is some buyers' increased--although slow-moving--interest in Hispanic media. Also, for the first time this upfront, Univision will negotiate off the same general-market ratings as the English-language networks. And it stacks up auspiciously as the "fifth network," topping the CW in the target 18-to-34 demo.

McCauley also said his network has high viewer retention during commercials, losing only about 4% of its audience on average. "If people want to go with commercial ratings, we have a great story," he said. He also touched on the reason why highly regarded media veteran Joe Uva was recently named Univision chief executive. "The reason he's the CEO," he said, "is we realize we have this tremendous growth opportunity."

Nesvig also expressed general optimism about the market, particularly with the Dow booming and the economy robust, adding that Fox is coming off its most successful upfront ever--estimated at $1.7 billion by Merrill Lynch. The network is in the midst of its most successful scatter market, with still several months to go.

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