Live Spots Killing Commercial Ratings, Nielsen Asks For Help -- Again

The drive toward TV commercial ratings is producing some unintended consequences as advertisers, agencies and TV programmers adapt new advertising formats - especially so-called "live" TV spots - that appear to be confounding Nielsen's ability to monitor them. Late Friday afternoon, on the eve of the Jewish high holy day of Yom Kippur, Nielsen informed its TV network and syndication clients that it's Monitor-Plus commercial tracking system was having trouble identifying these spots, and asked its clients to begin supplying detailed commercial log data for the new spots.

"Over the past several months, with the marketplace's increasing interest in commercial minute and average commercial minute ratings, many networks and syndicators have started incorporating innovative and creative techniques in their efforts to retain audiences through commercial breaks," Nielsen said in the unexpected client notice. "As programmers begin to change how commercials look and behave, it is more important than ever that we have an open dialog with our clients about the commercials being sold within their programming."



Because the new spots deviate from the kind of "continuous pattern recognition" that its Monitor-Plus technology relies on to track TV advertising, Nielsen said it needs extra help from its clients to ensure it includes the new forms of advertising. The disclosure is another in an ongoing series of revelations indicating that Nielsen's ad tracking system is not up to the challenge of a TV commercial ratings system, which currently is being audited and evaluated by the Media Rating Council for accreditation. It also seems to contradict claims by Nielsen executives that problems with its TV commercial ratings methods have been resolved and that they are finally ready for prime-time.

"Because they don't look like traditional ads, some of the new approaches and formats being employed can't yet be identified by Monitor-Plus' automated systems alone," the Nielsen client notice acknowledged. "To meet Monitor-Plus' need to accurately identify and report all national commercials and appropriately differentiate them from public service announcements and promotional announcements, we are asking all clients to provide us with advance information regarding any non-traditional ads they plan to carry."

Noting that Nielsen executives claimed their new "C3" ratings were fully vetted as recently as a TV Week conference last Wednesday, one client said Friday's revelation, on the eve of Yom Kippur, was tantamount to "business sacrilege." "Nielsen lays out guidelines for the handling of live and non-traditional commercial so that networks and advertisers can fit into the Nielsen system of measurement. It's outrageous to have the media and marketing practices determined by the measurement company limitations," the executives said, adding, "Nielsen appears more than amateurish and less than forthcoming. Further, the clients who supported the premature adoption of C3 ought to be embarrassed, if not outraged - unless C3 always stood for calculated commercial canard."

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