The number crunching, conducted by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Magna Global, confirms what many advertisers and media buyers have long suspected: there is a drop-off in the number of viewers between a program and its ads.
Break down by age
In these days of digital video recorders and new means of watching network-TV shows, live TV viewership continues to decline. On average, commercial ratings for the five broadcast networks, which include people who watch ads as much as three days later with a digital video recorder, were 1% lower than live program ratings for viewers between the ages of 25-54, said Steve Sternberg, exec VP-audience analysis for Magna Global. The commercial ratings were 5% lower for people 50 years and older.
Nielsen's new commercial-ratings data -- known as "C3" because they include viewership of ad breaks both live and as much as three days after the commercials air via playback on a DVR -- gives advertisers and media buyers their first look at information that now forms the crux of how Madison Avenue pays for TV commercials. Where marketers used to pay based on ratings for a specific program, they now purchase ad time based on average viewership of the ad breaks in that show. The data suggests that commercial viewership patterns hew closely to the way people watch live TV, which has shown declines over the last few seasons as viewers use DVRs or watch TV through other means, such as through video-on-demand options or via web video.
Advertisers have clamored for the data. "We're all getting sort of antsy," said Steve Kalb, senior VP-director of broadcast media at Interpublic's Mullen agency.
With networks and media seizing on live program ratings to judge the performance of network programs launching as part of the new fall season, he said, "everything right now has been based on the small amount of data projected." Advertisers are now seeing what they are really paying for, he said.
'CSI' has best numbers
Nielsen data released for the week of Sept. 24-30 show ad breaks during "CSI" on CBS draw the most viewers, followed by ABC's "Dancing With The Stars," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives"; Fox's "House"; CBS's "Without A Trace"; NBC's "Heroes" and "Sunday Night Football"; CBS's "CSI: Miami"; and ABC's "Private Practice."
Live viewing for the week stacks up somewhat closely. The most-watched program of the week was "CSI," followed by a Monday airing of "Dancing With The Stars," then "Grey's Anatomy," a "Dancing" special, "Desperate Housewives," the "Dancing" results show, "Without A Trace," "House," "CSI: Miami" and "Sunday Night Football" on NBC.
Advertisers are not likely to be encouraged by the results. "There are major fall-offs for each network," according to Mr. Sternberg, when comparing viewing of a show live plus three days after it airs with the commercial ratings. "Live plus three days of program ratings are significantly higher than live plus three days of average commercial minute viewing," he said -- about 16% for adults between the ages of 18 and 49 for the five networks combined.
Troubles for cable
Cable networks may face worse troubles. Known for sporting both longer ad breaks and more commercials overall, cable networks are likely to show even more of a drop off in viewership for commercial breaks, media buyers estimate.
The advent of the commercial-ratings data has spurred networks to devise new ideas for their ad breaks. Earlier this year, for example, Fox experimented with running five-second videos featuring an oddball taxi driver known as "Oleg." NBC has toyed with "TV juniors," or video skits featuring comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The videos tout his new film, "Bee Movie," but are also sponsored by Ford Motor Co. NBC has also been running "hybrid" promos, such as one that aired during last week's episode of "Heroes." The piece told viewers that "Heroes" would return, but also told them to stay tuned for an American Express commercial featuring singer Beyoncé.