In the midst of a furiously competitive launch to the fall TV season that includes such high-stakes gambles as "Pushing Daisies," "Kid Nation," "Bionic Woman" and "Reaper," advertisers are waiting, waiting, waiting for Nielsen Media Research to dish up the first of its C3 ratings, which will give them a sense of the viewers watching the ads interrupting their favorite programs. The figures will include people who watched the shows as many as three days after they aired, thanks to DVRs, and didn't skip through those same commercials.
At the same time, however, the media won't wait to see how those shows are doing. This is still a good horse race, and figures are available within a day or so that examine so-called live or live-plus-same-day audiences for individual programs. The news from those calculations ain't all good: Live-plus-same-day ratings for the Big Four TV networks in the first week of the fall season were collectively down between 8% and 10%, according to Sanford C. Bernstein media analyst Michael Nathanson. In the key adult 18-to-49 demo, ratings were down 9% collectively, he wrote in a recent research note, with the biggest declines at CBS, ABC and Fox.
Advertisers may be paying for C3, but those are still some pretty alarming statistics. Media outlets "are looking at and reporting on streams of ratings data that are essentially irrelevant to us," said Steve Sternberg, Magna's exec VP-audience analysis, in a note distributed widely.
But live and live-plus-same-day figures demonstrate how differently consumers are using TV these days. The C3 figures aren't guaranteed to make anyone comfortable; buyers agree they are likely to show significant drops in viewership between programs and ad breaks.
Buyers and advertisers may dismiss some of the media jockeying over use of live ratings, but they aren't going to dispute the need to counter audience erosion and commercial avoidance. "It is our mission to create advertising that makes the viewer want to stay through the commercial breaks," said Dave Wurfel, senior VP-brand advertising at Capital One.