Commentary

Random Timing Of Aggregate Ratings Once Again Hurts Nielsen's Currency

  • by October 15, 2007
As we struggle to reason about the almost bizarre mix of online and on-air ratings and metrics being bantered about these days, along comes yet another mystifying development in all things video. Only this time, it's the traditional ratings gurus - Nielsen -- who apparently went awry.

What's most astounding is that the company whose name has become synonymous with traditional television ratings currency actually seems to have a rather random method for announcing and implementing new rules -- especially ones that appear to "prop up" traditional television network viewership.

The hubbub, as this lone creative understands it, is that the networks were recently authorized to combine two airings of a show to produce one single rating (say a fall premiere and a re-broadcast of that same premiere 5 days later) provided the program and it's commercial content were the same. What was most irritating to learn was that apparently, it wasn't willing to report the original nightly rating - only the aggregate of the two. What? Are we not men? Are we Devo?

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According to statements made by Nielsen, "The intent of this change was to provide clients with more flexible reporting options so that ratings could be produced consistent with new ways in which programs are aired."

As a creative who spent many years writing and producing promos on behalf of networks large and small - slugging it out just to win a nightly time slot - let alone a night - the idea of allowing the reporting of an aggregate ratings performance like this seems not only reactionary, random and unfair, it's plainly misleading. From an on-air promotions creative point of view, the name of the game has always been "Win your time slot..."...and if you're good, "Win your night." That's what drives ratings drives revenues. But hold it! That was before they let this whole DVR thing get out of hand -- right?

With seemingly reactionary and random ratings policy decisions like this, which thankfully Nielsen reversed at the time of this writing, one can't help but wonder if the networks aren't more prepared than Nielsen to accept the reality of DVR time-shifting and its current effects on prime-time ratings.

On the one hand, Nielsen seems to get it by partnering with TiVo on developing both a live and playback metric. On the other, a decision like this seems to fly in the face of consumer transparency - a lesson we agency folk are busy convincing network advertisers is essential. What they report is that people are actually watching MORE television. Not less. They just have more options to view it thanks to cable, VOD, IPTV and broadband video channels.

From a creative standpoint, we're not focused on the ratings decline. We're continually about focusing on getting viewer attention in new ways - not with tricks, clicks or gimmickry. The work ahead of us is to keep trying new methods and new forms of ad units that break through the technology (check out AMC's sponsor factoids dispersed throughout the pods in "Mad Men") rather than adopt workarounds that avoid the issue.

It's a relief that Nielsen saw the light and reversed their policy. It's a lesson that we need to clarify video ratings, not confuse them.

The real irony lies in what their Buzzmetrics tell them they've suffered as a result of all this: my guess is, not much.

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